Yellowstone Supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park, set aside as a national park on March 1, 1872, is located mostly in the U.S. state of Wyoming, though it also extends into Montana and Idaho. The park was the first of its kind, and is known for its wildlife and geothermal features, especially Old Faithful Geyser, one of the most popular areas in the park.

Aboriginal Americans have lived in the Yellowstone region for at least 11,000 years. The region was bypassed during the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s. Aside from visits by mountain men during the early to mid-1800s, organized exploration did not begin until the late 1860s. The U.S. Army was commissioned to oversee the park just after its establishment. In 1917, administration of the park was transferred to the National Park Service, which had been created the previous year. Hundreds of structures have been built and are protected for their architectural and historical significance, and researchers have examined more than 1,000 archaeological sites.

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,472 square miles (8,987 km), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano; it has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years. Half of the world's geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth's northern temperate zone.

Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have been documented, including several that are either endangered or threatened. The vast forests and grasslands also include unique species of plants. Grizzlies, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk live in the park. Forest fires occur in the park each year; in the large forest fires of 1988, nearly one third of the park burned. Yellowstone has numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing and sightseeing. Paved roads provide close access to the major geothermal areas as well as some of the lakes and waterfalls. During the winter, visitors often access the park by way of guided tours that use either snow coaches or snowmobile.

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In the News ...

Scientists isolate, culture elusive Yellowstone microbe   PhysOrg - July 5, 2016

A microbial partnership thriving in an acidic hot spring in Yellowstone National Park has surrendered some of its lifestyle secrets to researchers. The team isolated the archaeon Nanopusillus acidilobi, cultured - tiny microbes - just 100 to 300 billionths of a meter in size - and can now study how they interact with their host, another archaeon (Acidilobus). The relationships between these two organisms can serve as a valuable model to study the evolution and mechanisms of more complex systems.

Yellowstone supereruption would send ash across North America   PhysOrg - August 28, 2014

In the unlikely event of a volcanic supereruption at Yellowstone National Park, the northern Rocky Mountains would be blanketed in meters of ash, and millimeters would be deposited as far away as New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, according to a new study.

Milky Way over Yellowstone   NASA - August 27, 2014

The Milky Way was not created by an evaporating lake. The colorful pool of water, about 10 meters across, is known as Silex Spring and is located in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA. Illuminated artificially, the colors are caused by layers of bacteria that grow in the hot spring. Steam rises off the spring, heated by a magma chamber deep underneath known as the Yellowstone hotspot. Unrelated and far in the distance, the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy arches high overhead, a band lit by billions of stars. The above picture is a 16-image panorama taken late last month. If the Yellowstone hotspot causes another supervolcanic eruption as it did 640,000 years ago, a large part of North America would be affected.

Road Melts from Yellowstone Volcano's Heat   Live Science - July 12, 2014

Yellowstone National Park closed a popular road Thursday (July 10) after geothermal heat cooked the asphalt. Part of Firehole Lake Drive, a scenic one-way road off of Yellowstone's main loop, was shut down for repairs when oil bubbled to the surface, damaging the blacktop, the Park Service said in a statement. The closure doesn't affect the Grand Loop Road, which sees 20,000 visitors per day during the summer. Park spokesman Dan Hottle told Live Science that Firehole Lake Drive's surface hit 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) on Thursday, about 30 degrees to 40 degrees F (17 to 22 degrees C) hotter than usual.

Earthquake Shakes Yellowstone But No Volcano Threat Looms, Scientists Say   Live Science - March 31, 2014

An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 shook Yellowstone National Park early Sunday (March 30). The tremor was the largest to hit the famed reserve in 34 years, but that doesn't mean Yellowstone's sleeping supervolcano is getting ready to spew, or even belch, scientists say. The epicenter of the quake was located 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) north-northeast of Norris Geyser Basin in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The tremor struck at 6:34 a.m. local time and was followed by at least 25 aftershocks in less than two hours, with the largest of magnitude 3.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Earthquake Rattles Yellowstone National Park, No Damage Reported   NBC - March 30, 2014
A 4.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Yellowstone National Park in Montana early today, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

Ancient Helium Escaping from Yellowstone   Live Science - February 19, 2014

The giant magma blob beneath Yellowstone National Park unleashed tons of ancient helium gas when it torched North America, according to a new study. "The amount of crustal helium coming out is way more than anyone would have expected," said Jacob Lowenstern, lead study author and scientist-in-charge at the U.S. Geological Survey's Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Yellowstone National Park's famous geysers burble within the remains of a supervolcano that first exploded 2.1 million years ago. Both the volcano and the geysers owe their existence to a hotspot, a massive plume of molten rock rising from within Earth's mantle toward the surface.

Yellowstone's Volcano Bigger Than Thought   Live Science - April 17, 2013

Yellowstone's underground volcanic plumbing is bigger and better connected than scientists thought, researchers reported here today (April 17) at the Seismological Society of America's annual meeting. "We are getting a much better understanding of the volcanic system of Yellowstone," said Jamie Farrell, a seismology graduate student at the University of Utah. "The magma reservoir is at least 50 percent larger than previously imaged." Knowing the volume of molten magma beneath Yellowstone is important for estimating the size of future eruptions, Farrell told OurAmazingPlanet.

Yellowstone supervolcano fed by bigger plume   BBC - April 14, 2011
The underground volcanic plume at Yellowstone in the US may be bigger than previously thought, according to a new study by geologists. The volcanic hotspot below Yellowstone feeds the hot springs, mud pots and geysers that bring millions of visitors to the US national park each year. But the Yellowstone "supervolcano" has erupted violently in the distant past and could do so again at some point.

Electric Yellowstone: Conductivity image hints volcano plume is bigger than thought   PhysOrg - April 11, 2011

University of Utah geophysicists made the first large-scale picture of the electrical conductivity of the gigantic underground plume of hot and partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano. The image suggests the plume is even bigger than it appears in earlier images made with earthquake waves.

Yellowstone Microbes Hint at Earth's Early Life   Live Science - March 1, 2010

In Glacier National Park, one can find rocks that are layered like cabbage leaves. These "stromatolites" are the work of microbes that lived more than a billion years ago. Stromatolites consist of multiple rock layers (or "stone blankets," as the Greek name implies) that formed in shallow, intertidal and sub-tidal environments. Most, if not all, of these rock formations are the remnants of ancient microbial mats that grew on top of each other in successive generations. Because stromatolites are found in the geologic record as far back 3.5 billion years ago, scientists would like to know exactly who lived in these microbial "high-rise buildings." The answer may be literally just down the road.

Yellowstone bioblitz uncovers hidden species   MSNBC - November 4, 2009
Initial report shows 46 kinds of bees, 373 plant species and over 300 bugs -- Scientists searching for Yellowstone National Park's lesser-known life forms - beyond its famed bison, bears and wolves - found more than 1,200 species, including several never known before to exist in the park. A one-day study of the park in late August found microscopic worms, mushrooms, a bluish-green lichen, a slender grass and a colorful tiger beetle, among other creatures, in about two square miles of Yellowstone, according to initial results released this week. Some 125 scientists and volunteers spent 24 hours canvassing an area in northern Yellowstone during the "bioblitz" - a scientific mad dash to document as many species as possible over the course of a day.