A Bit More Than the Usual Rumbling Hits Yellowstone

  • Published on January 7th, 2009

super-volcano in Yellowstone erupting more than usualIn the past week or so, some 400 earthquakes have added to the already precarious land at Yellowstone National Park. Although the area is the largest supervolcano in North America, the rumbling is a bit more than normal.

Like bees, when earthquakes occur in great amounts in one area, it’s called a swarm, reports NPR. But this swarm is bigger than the usual that would happen. The swarm has a magnitude of 3.9 on the Richter scale, and the quakes have happened at greater frequency than the norm.

And all of the earthquakes have occurred under Yellowstone Lake. The last time something like this happened was 20 years ago, reports Wyoming’s Local News 8. Said one geologist on the station: “We think it’s where more magma heat and steam escaped through cracks in the crust. That’s probably what’s causing the earthquakes.”


No one knows for sure why this is happening, though. But no worries to the people living around Yellowstone – the last huge volcano eruption was about 640,000 years ago.

Earlier in the year, around April, the same thing happened in Oregon, except it was 600 earthquakes in 10 days. That one, though, was different – it didn’t occur around any places where tectonic plates meet, the vast land areas that form the Earth’s crust. Three of those quakes had a magnitude of 5.0 or higher. Most, however, happened out at sea, and were barely felt on land.

>> See Also: United States Opening 190 Million Acres to Geothermal Energy Development

Casualties of global warming? Who knows. There’s not much anyone can really do about these, except wait them out.

Photo Credit: moonjazz at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

About the Author

My name is Amanda, and I'm a recent grad from Michigan State University. At MSU I was involved in the environmental journalism program and have written for the school's environmental journal and E, The Environmental Magazine. I'm delving into freelancing now, and will spend the summer in NYC as an intern at NYC Parks and Recreation.


  • "It’s being proven that the earth is actually cooling not warming…"

    Please don't be rediculous. Ice shelfs are melting, volcanos are misbehaving all over the world, we had the most devasting fires in history in Melbourne this year, and I still don't need a jumper in Perth and it's April.

    THERE IS SUCH A THING A GLOBAL WARMING!! It may not be farting cows that is causing it, but whether it's us or a natural phenomina, it's happening.

  • Casualty of Global Warming?

    What on earth does a bunch of little earthquakes and steam venting in Yellowstone and off the coast of Oregon have to do with Global Warming??

  • Well Amanda, what can I say…

    There are some rather scathing remarks already left for you here. Some of them use reliable information and suppositions, while others do not.

    I read your profile and I understand that you're a senior at college "involved" with Environmental Journalism. Involved with but not majoring in? Even your profile is a little hazy. But I digress…

    First, a swarm of volcano related earthquakes occur in great numbers, not amounts. Second and more importantly, a swarm is not measured as an entity unto itself. A swarm consists of hundreds or thousands of quakes, and EACH is measured and given separate values on a numerical scale.

    The on-line source of information you evidently buzzed through, without attention to detail, said that the LARGEST individual quake, within the recent swarm of earthquakes, measured 3.9 in magnitude. It is improper and incorrect to say that the SWARM measured 3.9 in magnitude. There’s a huge difference, dear.

    As for your assessment of the Oregon quakes, your statements here are also very much in error. If as you say, the quakes in question occurred both on land and at sea, then they are certainly in proximity to a subduction zone, involving both plate activity and potential coastal magma movement. I don’t intend to give you a lengthy lesson in geology here, but again, I highly recommend that you consult with a patient geology professor.

    Oh, and then came your parting shot and arbitrary inclusion of global warming, as if climate change was at fault for volcanic activity… Oh… my…

    Seriously – If this short article is indicative of the quality of your writing in general, stop trying to write. Just stop. Because it’s likely that some poor, naïve student out there will take what you say as being authoritative on the subject. And sadly, you’re not even close.

    You would do better to plagiarize directly instead of paraphrasing inaccurately about something you clearly don’t understand. If you’re truly interested in environment concerns, you might think about taking up vermiculture as an alternative form of expression. The earthworms love shredded paper.

    ~ T.C. Kennedy

  • Casualty of Global Warming?

    What on earth does a bunch of little earthquakes and steam venting in Yellowstone and off the coast of Oregon have to do with Global Warming??

  • Is the USGS hiding seismogram readings?

    I would have been glad not to come on here and share this information.

    Yellowstone, Jan. 9 2009, 11:17 am local time, a 3.3 magnitude earthquake was recorded. It was recorded on every monitor in the park. Except one. The monitor LKWY at Yellowstone Lake did not register the quake. Why? Also, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology webicoders LKWY seismogram graph shows a huge gap in readings today. Why? http://www.seis.utah.edu/req2webdir/recenteqs/Maphttp://www.seis.utah.edu/helicorder/GIFs/misc/ynpwebcord.gif http://www.seis.utah.edu/helicorder/GIFs/misc/ynphttp://mbmgquake.mtech.edu/earthworm/wavef_disp/welcome.html

    If the area at the lake is active why would they have a malfunctioning monitor at this site? It was not working properly during the last few days. The readings stop and start. I don't want to believe that they are hiding something, but the graphs speak for themselves. What's going on? Start making inquiries with the USGS and ask why the readings have discrepencies and large gaps in the data. I am not an American citizen, I cannot call up and demand to know what the hell is going on. Check the data and call a reporter if you think they are hiding something. I don't want to believe it. Check for yourself.


    Robin Marks

  • Hey guys, all I'm saying is that I've heard it before that global warming may be at fault. In no place did I say it actually was; in fact, I made it clear that the cause was unknown and an anomaly. I'm leaving that up to speculation, which I certainly have enough of!

    As for the writing, it's a blog. It's supposed to be loose and spark debate and criticism. So thanks!

  • There's a few errors and oddly-worded phrases in this article which I hope I can clear up.

    Yellowstone National Park is not on an active fault margin between two separate tectonic plates. It is a common misconception that earthquakes are clustered exclusively at active margins–this is not true. For example, the New Madrid Seismic Zone at the border between Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas is very far from the nearest active plate boundary, but it caused a devastating 8.0 (Richter) quake in 1812. New Madrid is in fact a "scar" of an old fault that has been reactivated. The series of quakes off the Oregon coast to which you refer is on an active fault boundary; Yellowstone is not.

    Also, global warming? The internal heat of the earth that drives plate tectonics (and thus earthquakes and volcanism) is leftover heat from the formation of the earth, the Late Heavy Bombardment, formation of the core, and radiogenic decay. Not from solar radiation. At least there's ONE thing people can't mess up. (Dr. Evil enters from stage right)

  • "In the past week or so, some 400 earthquakes have added to the already precarious land at Yellowstone National Park. Although the area is the largest supervolcano in North America, the rumbling is a bit more than normal. // No one knows for sure why this is happening, though. But no worries to the people living around Yellowstone – the last huge volcano eruption was about 640,000 years ago." … interesting downplay, but considering that the last three supervolcano eruptions occurring at Yellowstone were 2.1 million, 1.3 million and 640000 years ago, and that the last supervolcano eruption at Toba 73500 years ago nearly wiped out the human species, this story really shouldn't be downplayed … then again, if Yellowstone does erupt with another VEI8, there's very little that can be done, as the scale of the catastrophe will dwarf any other disaster that mankind has ever tackled before … the best that can be hoped for is that this event won't occur in our lifetimes …

  • This has to be one of the most poorly written articles I have ever read. I'm not even going to start pointing out the sentence structure errors in this. I will just state that you learn in the 3rd grade that you don't start a sentence with "and".

  • Global warming caused this? Seriously? Did any, actual scientist mention this as even being the slightest way involved?

    And people wonder why a growing percentage of the population doesn't take it seriously. You might just as well have said it was caused by a bunch of overweight children during a trampoline convention – you'd have just as much real data to back you up.

  • As the others have pointed out, the links that you try and draw between the increased seismic activity at Yellowstone and global warming are downright fraudulent.

    Also, if you had bothered to do some fact checking yourself, you would have realized quite rapidly that Wyoming is (relatively) in the center of the North American plate, and not as you suggest at the confluence of two or more tectonic plates. Oregon on the other hand is.

    How can people take the environmental movement seriously, when they are so desperate to tie anything to global warming and other "environmental hazards" that they blatantly ignore science?

  • The environmental journalism program at Michigan State produces environmental journalists that describe earthquakes as symptoms of global warming? Nice.

  • Really Amanda, this is ridiculous. "Causualties of Global Warming." "No worries to the people living around Yellowstone." These statements are obviously by someone who knows very little about what they are writing about. Here is a little advice since your profile says you are involved in enviromental journalism, LEARN ABOUT THE ENVIROMENT AND HOW THE EARTH WORKS. Do some research before writing an article, and no, Wikipedia does not constitute research.

  • The Yellowstone Volcano is a mega or super volcano. It is a result of a "Hotspot" in the earths mantle. It does not really have anything to do with tectonic plate movement.

    The precursor of almost all eruptions are an increasing number of atypical earthquake "swarms". The current rash of earthquakes in and around Yellowstone fits that description.

    If this thing erupts, (depending on the size of the eruption)global warming will be a very moot point. We will pray for something warm, because the whole earth could be put into a new mini ice age within several days as a result of fine volcanic ash suspended in the stratosphere, blocking out the sunlight. This could turn out to be a disaster beyond comprehension. This subject deserves more serious consideration now as opposed to later.

  • Since the last one occurred 640,00 years ago is reason to worry since volcanoes erupt in cycles. Yellowstone is long over due for one, and when it does erupt get ready for a very cold Earth.

  • Ehh, I don't think it's that bad, Mike–she does have a few sources (NPR, a local news channel) and the article still serves its intended purpose. However, as a journalism and writing major in college, I agree that the writing is indeed sloppy. Some bits don't go anywhere (e.g., the bit on Oregon's earthquakes–these matter to the story why, again?), and speculation on the author's part is introduced along with fact in the article. This is a deadly mistake, especially for reporting in the sciences.

  • Global Warming? Are you kidding me! What Global Warming, there is no Global Warming. It’s being proven that the earth is actually cooling not warming…..But of course when you have folks like Hansen on the loose…and the media. This is what you’ll get.

  • I hope you'll clean up this article, Amanda… sloppy stuff like this is what people like Gary and TB read and then conflate environmental science with "environmentalism". If anyone outside of academia is going to take the data seriously, people inside need to stick to rigor and facts instead of flippant comments like this.

  • How can you possibly link earthquakes, plate tectonics, and a rumbling volcano to Global Warming? You lose all credibility when you make such ridiculous allegations. This article (and probably this whole website) is a waste of time.

  • I saw this article on Digg and like the last poster commented "Casualty of global warming"…

    Are you kidding me? Tell me the relation there, unless like all other environmental crazy people you are mixing up your facts. Volcanoes are actually the main cause of global warming, not the other way around- nice try. And before you try to write an article check your sources (which you have absolutely none of). Your whole article is a bunch of cockamamie and leave actual science to scientists.

  • First… Global Warming?

    What, did the earth warm up to the point where the lake started rumbling like a boiling pot of water? 🙂

    But seriously. This has been happening at Yellowstone for as long as they've been recording and they've actually subsided since the 6th.

    The park actually gets over 3,000 quakes a year with a magnitude >2.

    There probably will be an eruption in the relatively near future… what you want to look for is a harmonic resonance in the quakes, which we're not seeing here.

    When that does start to happen, pack up the kids and head south, cause it's going to get a little bumpy. 🙂

  • Casualty of Global Warming?

    What on earth does a bunch of little earthquakes and steam venting in Yellowstone and off the coast of Oregon have to do with Global Warming?

  • "…no worries to the people living around Yellowstone – the last huge volcano eruption was about 640,000 years ago."

    The problem with the above statement is that scientists have revealed that Yellowstone Park has been on a regular eruption cycle of 60,0000 years. That means that from a historical perspective, Yellowstone is 40,000 years behind its eruptive schedule.

  • Demonstration of Eruption (Yellowstone, Hudson Bay)

    This You Tube video is my experiment to determine how a magma chamber would erupt if inundated by a lake.

    I know where the fault that will rupture is located. I how Yellowstone will erupt. And I know when.

    Watch,and find out more,if you're curious. Ask a question and I'll provide the answer.

Comments are closed.