||Situation 4: The "Big One"
in Yellowstone National Park
The volcanic nature of the area around Yellowstone National Park is well known. Much of the park is within the boundary of a giant caldera that formed in a huge explosion about 600,000 years ago. The magma chamber underneath the caldera still contains liquid rock and provides the heat for all of the geysers and hot springs that make the park famous. However, the Yellowstone Caldera is only the latest in a long string of calderas that formed along the Snake River Valley over the last 15 million years. These calderas apparently formed over a plume of hot material rising through the mantle. As the North American plate moves southwest over the hot spot at about 2.2 cm/year, the hot material periodically "burns through" in a giant eruption. Since the hot spot remains active, another giant eruption will almost certainly occur. The question is, when?
In the last year a new cycle of volcanic activity has begun. The number and strength of earthquakes have increased; new hot springs have appeared, and existing ones have grown. A large area to the northeast of Yellowstone Lake has uplifted again. Park officials have hired your company to analyze the data and history of the Yellowstone area with three objectives: (1) Estimate the significance of the new activity. Determine whether it is evidence of a new cycle of major volcanic activity. (2) Estimate regional and global effects of a new Yellowstone-scale eruption. (3) Make recommendations concerning possible protective measures.
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Last updated September 29, 2010
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