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10 volcanic facts about Yellowstone National Park

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The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park is covered in snow and is closed to tourists even during the summer months. A treasure hunter was cited for climbing into the canyon on Jan. 6; rescuers were required to retrieve him during a snowstorm.
  1. A supervolcano sits beneath Yellowstone National Park. This means the measured volume of deposits is greater than 1,000 cubic kilometers. Volcanic deposits are a mixture of rock and gasses emitted during an eruption.
  2. During its first eruption 2.1 million years ago, the Yellowstone Supervolcano covered more than 5,790 square miles with volcanic ash. That spans an area larger than the state of Connecticut, which totals 5,543 square miles.
  3. Three super eruptions are known. The Huckleberry Ridge eruption 2.1 million years ago formed the Island Park Caldera; the Mesa Falls 1.3 million years ago created Henry’s Fork Caldera; and the Lava Creek approximately 640,000 years ago produced the Yellowstone Caldera.
  4. The North American continent has existed for approximately 3.8 billion years. Yellowstone’s oldest rocks are 2.7 billion years old. These rocks are granites and gneisses that form at temperatures over 1100F (600C) and at depths of 5 to 10 miles (8-16km). Gneisses morph into minerals like mica and feldspar.
  5. Between 1,000 to 2,000 measurable earthquakes occur annually due to volcanic and tectonic activity. More than 3,000 were cataloged in 1985. The largest earthquake recorded was at Hebgen Lake in 1959 at a magnitude 7.3. It created a fault line across 25 miles at 40 feet high.
  6. A hotspot is a melting anomaly within the Earth and Yellowstone sits directly above one. At approximately 17 million years old, its hotspot may extend as deep as the planet’s mantle and core. Its source of power is hot material that generates magma as it melts near the surface.
  7. Hydrothermal explosions occur when underground water reaches temperatures as high as 482° F and a rapid reduction of pressure causes a nearly instantaneous transition from liquid to steam. The result causes a powerful explosion of water, mud and rock debris. These phenomena are similar to geysers except for the debris it expunges. The largest hypothermal explosion recorded was approximately 13,800 years ago and occurred near Mary Bay.
  8. Eagle Peak is the highest point in Yellowstone at 11,372 feet and is located in Wyoming. It was formed by lava flows trapped by valley walls and is composed of Eocene age volcaniclastic rocks.
  9. Each time Yellowstone has erupted, it has expunged two types of magma: rhyolite and basalt. The rhyolite magma reserve is located in the shallow crust of about 3 to 10 miles below the surface and is what fuels the heat for the hot springs and geysers. Basalt magma is at depths greater than 25 miles and provides the heat necessary for rhyolite to form.
  10. When will Yellowstone erupt again? Experts cannot provide a definitive time frame for eruptions and the recent situation in Tonga is an example of how quickly catastrophe can strike. What can be determined is a large-scale Yellowstone eruption that forms another caldera will change global weather patterns and affect life as we know it for many years afterwards.

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