The Yellowstone Volcano

Emily Woo ‘22

The Yellowstone National Park and caldera, known for its unique hydrothermal pools, is a prime example of a geologic wonder. Most of the park is located in Wyoming, but parts of it lie in Montana and Idaho, with nearby towns situated less than a mile from its North and West entrances. Proximity to the park is no doubt convenient, but in the event of an eruption, residents would find themselves in a rather unideal situation.


A caldera is a large crater that forms after the magma chamber of a volcano is emptied by an eruption. In the case of the Yellowstone volcano, the last eruption took place around 630,000 years ago. This volcano is not expected to erupt again for many more thousands of years, but even so , the effects could be devastating. An eruption of the Yellowstone caldera would spell trouble for far more than just its neighbors. With a volcano like Yellowstone, lava flow is not the main concern. Even the nearby towns should not expect much damage due to lava. Volcanic ash, on the other hand, would pose a problem for the north and midwest regions of the United States and potentially even the entire country. 


Ash would spew from the volcano and cover everything within a 500 mile radius in a 4 inch layer. While this may sound less threatening than your average snowstorm, volcanic ash is much finer, and lingers in the atmosphere much longer. It can be detrimental to agriculture, pollute water sources, and be inhaled by civilians. Gases released alongside the ash can lead to a period of global cooling. Damage to crops and livestock would only be amplified by the combined effects of ash and the gases, which are by no means contained to the immediate surrounding area. 


However, it is unlikely that an eruption could even occur given the lack of lava within the volcano.The magma chamber beneath the caldera is reportedly only 15 percent molten, at most.. 

Though the volcano does have the potential to wreak havoc, it is also what makes Yellowstone so special. The heat from the magma is the reason for impressive geysers such as the iconic Old Faithful, and the same gases that are released during an eruption cause the beautiful coloring of the pools. Do not be fooled by the pretty colors, however. The acidic properties of the water are strong enough to burn human skin, and many of the pools can reach near boiling temperatures. 


So, are we in danger of a Yellowstone eruption? Short answer: likely not. Eruptions are few and far between, and with the most recent one dating back only 70,000 years, there is still quite a ways to go before we are “due” for another.