Is it about to blow? Yellowstone supervolcano is hit by 878 earthquakes in just over TWO WEEKS – the most active it has been for five years

  • Strongest earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit on Thursday 15 June 
  • This could be a warning sign of an impending eruption of the supervolcano
  • If it did erupt, it would be one thousand times as powerful as Mount St Helens

A swarm of nearly 900 earthquakes have hit Yellowstone National Park since 12 June, according to experts.

The park sits on one of the world’s most dangerous supervolcanoes and recent activity has raised fears the supervolcano is about to blow.

If it were to erupt, the Yellowstone volcano would be one thousand times as powerful as the 1980 Mount St Helens eruption, experts claim – although they say the risk is ‘low’.

A swarm of hundreds of earthquakes have hit Yellowstone National Park with up to 4.4 magnitude. The Grand Prismatic hot spring (pictured) is among the park's many hydrothermal features created by the supervolcano (stock image)

A swarm of hundreds of earthquakes have hit Yellowstone National Park with up to 4.4 magnitude. The Grand Prismatic hot spring (pictured) is among the park’s many hydrothermal features created by the supervolcano (stock image)

EARTHQUAKE SWARM

Researchers from the University of Utah’s Seismograph Stations (UUSS) have been monitoring the activity since it began last Monday, June 12.

A total of 878 quakes have been recorded over the past fortnight at Yellowstone.

Earthquake swarms are common in Yellowstone and, on average, comprise about 50 per cent of the total activity in the Yellowstone region.

Although the latest swarm is the largest since 2012, it is fewer than weekly counts during similar events in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010.

The tremors were recorded at depths from ground level to nine miles (14.5 km) below sea level.

Seismic activity could be a sign of an impending eruption of the supervolcano, although this is currently impossible to predict exactly.

A total of 878 quakes have been recorded over the past fortnight at Yellowstone.

When the earthquakes started on 12 June, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said it was the highest number of earthquakes at the park within a single week in the past five years.

Researchers from the University of Utah’s Seismograph Stations (UUSS) have been monitoring the activity since it began on Monday, June 12.

The strongest quake of 4.4 magnitude hit on Thursday, June 15.

‘The swarm consists of one earthquake in the magnitude 4 range, 5 earthquakes in the magnitude 3 range, 68 earthquakes in the magnitude 2 range, 277 earthquakes in the magnitude 1 range, 508 earthquakes in the magnitude 0 range, and 19 earthquakes with magnitudes of less than zero’, the report said.

‘Earthquake swarms are common in Yellowstone and, on average, comprise about 50 per cent of the total seismicity in the Yellowstone region’.

‘UUSS will continue to monitor this swarm and will provide updates as necessary.’

UUSS said the quake was part of ‘an energetic sequence’ of earthquakes magnitude two and larger in the area.

A spokesman said: ‘The epicentre of the shock was located in Yellowstone National Park, eight miles north-northeast of the town of West Yellowstone.

‘The earthquake was felt in the towns of West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana, in Yellowstone National Park, and elsewhere in the surrounding region.’

Earthquake swarms are common in Yellowstone and, on average, comprise about 50 per cent of the total activity in the Yellowstone region.

Researchers from the University of Utah's Seismograph Stations (UUSS) have been monitoring the activity since it began last Monday, June 12. Pictured  is the he location of the earthquakes that are part of the swarm as  (red symbols)

Researchers from the University of Utah’s Seismograph Stations (UUSS) have been monitoring the activity since it began last Monday, June 12. Pictured  is the he location of the earthquakes that are part of the swarm as (red symbols)

Although the latest swarm is the largest since 2012, it is fewer than weekly counts during similar events in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010.

The tremors were recorded at depths from ground level to nine miles (14.5 km) below sea level.

Earthquake swarms are common in Yellowstone and, on average, comprise around 50 per cent of the total seismic activity in the Yellowstone region. Pictured - seismic data for the magnitude 4.4 quake which took place on Thursday, June 15

Earthquake swarms are common in Yellowstone and, on average, comprise around 50 per cent of the total seismic activity in the Yellowstone region. Pictured – seismic data for the magnitude 4.4 quake which took place on Thursday, June 15

The University of Utah is part of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), which provides long-term monitoring of volcanic and earthquake activity in the region.

YVO is one of the five United States Geological Survey volcano observatories that monitor volcanoes within the United States for science and public safety.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the team said: ‘Yellowstone hasn’t erupted for 70,000 years, so it’s going to take some impressive earthquakes and ground uplift to get things started.’

‘Besides intense earthquake swarms, we expect rapid and notable uplift around the caldera.

‘Finally, rising magma will cause explosions from the boiling-temperature geothermal reservoirs.

‘Even with explosions, earthquakes and notable ground uplift, the most likely volcanic eruptions would be the type that would have minimal effect outside the park itself.’

Yellowstone is the site of the largest and most diverse collection of natural thermal features in the world.

SCIENTISTS FIND A MASSIVE MAGMA CHAMBER UNDER YELLOWSTONE PARK

Previous research found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface

Previous research found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface

In the heart of Yellowstone National Park, a supervolcano releases around 45,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each day.

But the magma chamber lying directly beneath its surface is not considered large enough to produce such levels, so researchers have been searching for an alternative source for years.

In April 2015, by tracking seismic waves, geophysicists discovered a huge secondary chamber deeper underground that’s so large its partly-molten rock could fill the Grand Canyon 11 times over.

Previous research found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, directly beneath the surface in 2013 that measures 2,500 cubic miles (10,420 cubic km).

To discover the latest chamber, Hsin-Hua Huang from the University of Utah and his colleagues tracked seismic waves from almost 5,000 earthquakes.

This USGS graphic shows how a 'super eruption' of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

This USGS graphic shows how a ‘super eruption’ of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

These readings combined data from the University of Utah Seismograph Stations, which collected shallow readings from nearby quakes in Utah, Idaho, the Teton Range and Yellowstone, and from the Earthscope array, which revealed deeper readings from temblors from more further afield.

Each of these quakes created waves that echoed around the supervolcano.

The movement and structure of these waves could then be used to map the earth beneath.

The researchers said in their paper: ‘The Yellowstone magmatic system from the mantle plume to the upper crust’, published in the journal Science, that the reservoir contains around 98 per cent hot rock.

The remaining 2 per cent is molten rock and is too deep to directly cause an eruption, they added