Research debunks Yellowstone Caldera myths

The Yellowstone Caldera is less of a threat than depicted in disaster movies, according to a USU alumnus and scientist. Jaime Farrell, a doctoral candidate at the University of Utah, spoke at last Friday’s edition of Science Unwrapped, sponsored by the College of Science. The most recent program, titled “Yellowstone Supervolcano: Myths and Realities,” focused mainly on the destructive geothermal activity of earthquakes and supervolcanoes. Farrell spoke concerning research on geothermal activity in Yellowstone National Park, focusing heavily on the legendary supervolcano, or caldera, that lies beneath the park. “There’s a lot of information and a lot of misinformation about Yellowstone, particularly the supervolcano part of it,” Farrell said. Beneath the surface of Yellowstone sits a large, active volcano, Farrell said. This supervolcano erupted once 640,000 years ago, once 1.3 million years ago and once 2.1 million years ago. One of the volcanic explosions was 2500 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Farrell addressed the myths surrounding the volcano, including the common notion that it’s overdue for another large eruption. “They’re taking the dates of the last three eruptions, they’re taking the interval times and they’re averaging them,” Farrell said. “If you actually use that technique … we’re still 50,000 years in the clear — if you use that technique.” However, looking at the intervals between the last three eruptions is not scientific and an oversimplification of the factors involved, Farrell said. “This is three numbers,” Farrell said. “Volcanoes are very unpredictable. You can not use three numbers to get a meaningful statistic on when this is going to erupt next. The bottom line is, we don’t know.”

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