Triple swarm of earthquakes rocks Yellowstone National Park


A total of 130 earthquakes occurred from September 10 – 16, 2013 in the Yellowstone National Park. According to the USGS, the strongest was M 3.6 that hit on Sunday, September 15, 2013 about 12 km (8 miles) away from the Old Faithful geyser.

Although much of the seismicity in the Yellowstone occurs as swarms, a triple swarm, like the one that occurred this month, is relatively rare. Bob Smith, a geophysics professor from the University of Utah who has been monitoring its seismicity for 53 years, said he has never seen even two swarms occur together. Now, I've seen three, he said.

But, according to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), these earthquake swarms are well within established norms for the Yellowstone region, and they have determined it presents no volcanic hazard.

The University of Utah, a YVO member agency, has sent out the following press release about a magnitude 3.6 earthquake that occurred amid three earthquake swarms:

The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a light earthquake of magnitude 3.6 occurred at 09:53:02 AM on September 15, 2013 (MDT) that was felt by persons in Yellowstone. The epicenter of the shock was located in Yellowstone National Park near the Lower Geyser Basin area, 8 miles north of Old Faithful, and 15 miles SE of the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. This earthquake is the largest of an ongoing sequence of swarms that began on September 10, 2013 and
has included swarms near Lewis Lake, the Lower Geyser Basin and in an area NW of Norris Geyser Basin. A total of 130 earthquakes of magnitude 0.6 to 3.6 have occurred in these three areas however, most have occurred near the Lower Geyser Basin.

According to YVO, about 1 000 to 3 000 earthquakes typically occur each year within Yellowstone National Park and its immediate surroundings. Although most are too small to be felt, these quakes reflect the active nature of the Yellowstone region, one of the most seismically active areas in the United States. Each year, several earthquakes of magnitude 3 to 4 are felt by people inside and outside the park.

Although rising magma and hot-ground-water movement cause some earthquakes, many occur as the result of Basin and Range extension of the western U.S. This tectonic environment has created a series of regional faults that are responsible for large and devastating earthquakes in the Yellowstone region along the Teton and Hebgen Lake Faults. Most recently, a devastating Mw 7.3 (Ms 7.5) earthquake in 1959 killed 28 people and caused $11 million in damage. The majority of the damage occurred as a result of a large landslide that was triggered by the quake.

1959 earthquake caused nearly 300 features to erupt, included 160 where there were no previous records of geysers. 

Smith says he believes that the current swarms may, in fact, be related to the 1959 earthquake. It can go on for hundreds of years, he said.

Yellowstone super volcano

Yellowstone Caldera, located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, is sometimes referred to as the Yellowstone super volcano.

Yellowstone's world-famous natural history is marked by such colossal volcanic events that their reflections in today's landscape are difficult to grasp and impossible to take in at just a glance, even for those familiar with the signs of past volcanism.

The Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field developed through three volcanic cycles spanning two million years that included some of the world's largest known eruptions. Eruption of the >2450 cu km Huckleberry Ridge Tuff about 2.1 million years ago created the more than 75-km-long Island Park caldera. The second cycle concluded with the eruption of the Mesa Falls Tuff around 1.3 million years ago, forming the 16-km-wide Henrys Fork caldera at the western end of the first caldera.

Activity subsequently shifted to the present Yellowstone Plateau and culminated 640 000 years ago with the eruption of the >1000 cu km Lava Creek Tuff and the formation of the present 45 x 85 km caldera (GVP).

Resurgent doming subsequently occurred at both the NE and SW sides of the caldera and voluminous (1000 cu km) intracaldera rhyolitic lava flows were erupted between 150 000 and 70 000 years ago. No magmatic eruptions have occurred since the late Pleistocene, but large hydrothermal eruptions took place near Yellowstone Lake during the Holocene.

Yellowstone is presently the site of one of the world's largest hydrothermal systems including Earth's largest concentration of geysers:

Old Faithful geyser.

Check out this video to learn more about Yellowstone super volcano.

Featured image: An eruption of Old Faithful, perhaps the world's best known geyser, rises above Yellowstone's Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful is a periodic geyser, with eruptions to heights of about 40 m at intervals of 30 to 100 minutes. Old Faithful Lodge to the right provides a rustic backdrop to the Upper Geyser Basin, which contains more geysers than are known altogether in the rest of the world. The forested ridge in the background is underlain by massive post-caldera rhyolitic lava flows of the Madison Plateau. Photo by Lee Siebert, 1968 (Smithsonian Institution).

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