World Facts

What is the Yellowstone Supervolcano?

Although the supervolcano in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park is under close surveillance, there is no way to know when the next eruption will be.

The Yellowstone Supervolcano, known more commonly by its scientific name, the Yellowstone Caldera, is a supervolcano located in the Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming, in the United States of America. The area of the entire caldera is hard to estimate, however, most studies have concluded that the caldera's features occupy an area of 34 by 45 kilometers that is roughly circular in shape, although a more elliptical shape has also been proposed.

Origin of the Yellowstone Supervolcano

The origin of the caldera has been traced back to almost two million years ago. It has been proposed that the caldera was created through a series of super-eruptions that took place in the area. These eruptions were in three stages, with the last stage creating the caldera that we see today. The first eruption occurred about two million years ago and formed the Island Park Caldera. It was followed by another super-eruption about one and half million years ago which formed the Henry's Fork Caldera. These two eruptions were followed by a third super-eruption that formed the Yellowstone caldera about 631,000 years ago. These super eruptions had a very visible effect on the landscape as well, and they formed three tuffs. The first of these was the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff, the second was the Mesa Falls Tuff, while the last to be formed was the Lava Creek Tuff, which is the newest tuff to be formed in the area.

Even though the origin of the supervolcano and the caldera is a well-studied matter and consensus is nearly universal about it, the source of the hotspot that powers the caldera is a matter of much controversy and disagreement among the scientific community. One group of scientists has proposed that the hotspot has been created due to convection in the upper mantle interacting with the lithosphere. However, this hypothesis has been met with skepticism from the rest of the community. Another hypothesis is that a magma plume is powering the hotspot. The hotspot seems to have moved as its location has changed over thousands of years, but this is not the case. In reality, the tectonic plate over the hotspot is slowly moving to south-southwest, and as the hotspot is deeper than the plate, it stays in the same spot and the plate slides over it, bringing new areas in contact with the hotspot.

Tourism and Conservation

The Yellowstone area is a unique geological feature of the planet and is, therefore, a tourist hotspot. The United States Government has designated the entire area as a national park in order to prevent commercial exploitation and subsequent destruction of its natural assets. As such, tourism to the area has flourished during the recent years. Tourists usually visit the area to marvel at the unique geological features, and they also spend time trekking the various trials and observing wildlife.

There are a number of earthquakes in the area each year. It has been estimated that anywhere between one and two thousand earthquakes are recorded in the area throughout the year. This number is significantly higher than the rest of the world. Although most of them are minor tremors and do not exceed three on the Richter scale, they may occur at the same time causing what is known as an earthquake swarm.

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