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Yellowstone monitoring plan for earthquakes and volcanoes updated

 A continuous gas-monitoring station operates near Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin.
Jen Lewicki
A continuous gas-monitoring station operates near Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin. Expansion of continuous gas monitoring is part of a new volcano and earthquake monitoring plan for the Yellowstone caldera system.

The Yellowstone National Park area is considered one of the most active places in the world for volcanic, hydrothermal and earthquake activity.

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory released a 10-year plan that updates how hazards are monitored. The hazards include everything from smaller earthquakes, of which there’s around 2,000 every year, to something major, like a supermassive volcanic eruption. The last eruption like that happened about 640,000 years ago.

However, Ken Sims, University of Wyoming isotope geology professor, said the volcanic system in Yellowstone is pretty solid, and the odds of a super eruption anytime soon are slim.

“Doesn't mean it won't happen one day, but it's not likely to happen anytime soon, and the probability of such is exceedingly small,” Sims said.

He added that the greater risks are larger earthquakes and hydrothermal or steam explosions, which could affect everyday visitors in the vicinity.

“The hard part is we're just in the beginning stages of understanding a lot of geyser dynamics and steam explosions,” Sims said. “So a lot of this effort for the next 10 years will be to look at better ways to monitor them and also that'll lead to a new understanding of the system.”

This includes updating and setting up new monitoring stations at hydrothermal and water areas. According to a press release, the park previously only had one seismometer, which helps monitor earthquakes and explosions, in its geyser basins “because seismic noise associated with boiling water can hinder interpretation of overall seismic and magmatic activity.” But, improvements to the technology will now allow for additional monitoring.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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