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When Will the Super Volcano Beneath Yellowstone National Park Erupt?


Right around the first of the year swarms of earthquakes rattled Yellowstone National Park. This USGS graphic pinpoints where some of the quakes were centered.

When you fully appreciate that Yellowstone National Park is centered over one of the world's largest super volcanoes, you can't help but wonder when it might next erupt. This final installment of a USGS video series on Yellowstone touches on that question.

Now, when it comes to predicting the future, we're not so good at that. But delving into the past, that's much easier. And author Greg Breining did just that in his book, Super Volcano, the Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Yellowstone National Park. In addition to taking us along with him during a field course into Yellowstone's geology, Mr. Breining had us tag along with him to eastern Nebraska, to a spot 1,000 miles east of where the "Yellowstone hot spot" was located nearly 12 million years ago, to dramatize how incredibly powerful that hot spot can be when it blows.

In this, the third and final installment of a USGS series on Yellowstone's geothermal basement, Jake Lowenstern, the scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, tries to explain what is known in terms of the vigor of Yellowstone's slumbering super volcano.


I'm not familiar with Breining's book, but if he claims that the Yellowstone hot spot moves (relatively to the earth surface) east to west and was in Nebraska 12 mya, then he is in contradiction with everything established about the origin of the Yellowstone volcanic activity. The usual explanation of volcanism in the Yellowstone area is that it is caused by a hot spot moving (relatively) west to east, caused the Snake River plain basalt, the Craters of the Moon eruptions over Idaho's Great Rift and moved to the Yellowstone about 650.000 years ago.

Wikipedia's graphic at is based on USGS publications that are digested at (scroll down to the hot spot chapter).

MRC, perhaps that sentence wasn't constructed as clearly as it might have been. The spot Mr. Breining went to was 1,000 miles east of Yellowstone and its hot spot. It was there that ash from a previous eruption of the Yellowstone volcano had been found.

I see - so not the hot spot was in Nebraska 12 mya but ashfall from an eruption 12 mya can still be found in Nebraska. That is certainly perfectly consistent with the established theories even though it requires a pretty big bang around that time, that sent ashfall some 1500 miles east of the plume as it was in that time frame. Thank you, Kurt, for the explanation.

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