Monday Musings: Yellowstone Update and Turrialba from space UPDATED with a Turrialba webcam!

Two quick notes:

A Costa Rican farmer evacuating in early January 2010 after renewed activity of Volcan Turrialba.

  • Well, it appears that after a quiet night on Friday, the current Yellowstone swarm picked up where it left off. We're now up to 1,200 earthquakes since January 17th, with a pair over M3 today. Of course, people are still uppity about the swarm, especially after the earthquake in Haiti, but really, they're about as connected as worrying about the rainy day in Boston when there was a typhoon in Malaysia. Just to get people on the same page, YVO still says: "The swarm events are likely the result of slip on pre-existing faults and are called tectonic earthquakes and are not thought to be caused by underground movement of magma. Currently there is no indication of premonitory volcanic or hydrothermal activity, but ongoing observations and analyses will continue to evaluate these different sources. Enough said.
  • UPDATE 1/25/10 at 7PM: This just in, Turrialba has its own webcam. Not much to see right now but grey, but better keep an eye on it.

    Lost in the Yellowstone arglebargle is the fact that some volcanoes are actually erupting. The NASA Earth Observatory posted a great image of the summit area at Turrialba in Costa Rica. The volcano has been showing signs of life after over 100 years of quiet. The activity has apparently prompted the evacuation of farmers near the volcano due to the amount of fumarolic degassing - mostly of carbon dioxide, water vapor and sulfur dioxide.

More like this

Arenal in Costa Rica, erupting in July 2007. Image courtesy of Arenal in Costa Rica is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. It is almost one of the most picturesque (see above) and, dare I say, touristy, volcanoes in the world. However, even volcanoes that seem "benign…
First off, I wanted to thank all of the Eruptions readers for making January the most popular month ever on this blog. I suppose I should give an assist to Yellowstone, but really, thanks for coming to the blog, reading the posts and engaging in all the great discussions that go on within its (…
Quick news updates for a Wednesday... The island (and volcano) of Gran Canaria in the Atlantic Ocean. It last erupted in ~20 B.C. The earthquakes keep coming at Yellowstone - up to a M3.5 in the last 24 hours. Time has already put up an article wondering about whether people need worry about the…
Leaving for Death Valley tomorrow - I'll be sure to take some pictures of Ubehebe Crater and the volcano at the Mirage. This will likely be the last new post until about a week from now, but look for the Erta'Ale Volcano Profile, maybe a new Mystery Volcano Photo and I'll leave a thread open for…

Arglebargle: a term used when describing the difference between noise, science, and "I just don't know" when volcanoes and earthquakes are being discussed.

Great term, Erik! I like it.

What other volcanoes erupting besides Kilauea and Turrialba? Yeah, I know there are several, but a nice list of the main ones would be nice. Hint, hint.

Arglebargle is a great term but I like that other scientific term for controversy: Kerfuffle As in " there was a kerfuffle created when is was thought the world would end starting with this Yellowstone swarm"

All the best

Well there's activity now...... but i don't know what i'm looking at..... seems to be a flow down a flank. comes and goes but there's a lot of light.


First have you seen the uplift on the Yellowstone middle to west side collapse dome lately? Honking pretty hard vertically and the outbound separation is increasing as well. E.g. pushing upwards makes the edges push outward. Seems to be accelerating across the last 5 years and a helluva lot in the last year. It would likely take feet of vertical to do it but I would also say about 6 inches in four years would get anyones attention. We have no real background on the inflation stats, but thats a lot in a short time. About 1/2 of that got The Sisters noticed... and to these guys its not a problem?

Second any idea why all of the close to epicenter webicorders are down or inaccessible?.

Third, noted the timing between Old Faithful and its shoots is off and getting a little nuttier every day. I timed it late last year and its anomalous to say the least. Even taking into account the temp/baro its not having a good day.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 25 Jan 2010 #permalink

@Randolph Kruger, I just wonder what media hype we would have if the 1959 Hebgen Lake (M 7.5) or the 1975 M 6.1 Yellowstone earthquake had happened just now. Many large volcanic systems like Yellowstone in the world are restless and quite a few sometimes show amazing amounts of uplift but as far as I know only two have historically produced significant eruptions, Campi Flegrei in Italy in 1538, and Rabaul in Papua New Guinea in 1878, 1937 and 1994 to present. None of these eruptions has been cataclysmic although those of Rabaul have been destructive and deadly.

An excellent summary of historic unrest at large calderas (which is the Yellowstone type of volcano) was published in 1988 by Chris Newhall and Dan Dzurisin, and it is available on-line (in DJVU format) at the USGS Publications Warehouse:

For more information about the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake there is the USGS "Historic Earthquakes" site:
and there is a Wikipedia entry:

Permanent GPS monitoring of Yellowstone:
with a detailed map of ground displacement (probably the data that Randolph refers to):

Indirectly related to Yellowstone I guess, but I have a couple of questions for the professionals:

Is it true that fault propagation is still the favored mechanism facilitating the ascent of magma? (yes, I got this from wikipedia)

If so, and given that a lot of caldera systems have erupted along linear fault systems (not just ring fractures from rising diapirs) is it conceivable that some of these myriad earthquake swarms in caldera systems might involve slow upwards movement of magma or at least interaction with the xenolith? I kind of imagine a subterranean version of Half Dome in Yosemite where a rhyolite body is slowly ascending along a fault line in almost ridge like fashion. Of course sooner or later one of these bodies will rise to a critical point where a crack forms to the surface and an eruption will result with the ensuing precursory earthquake activity, inflation, gas discharge and all the other signs. But what happens before that stage interests me.

Forgive me if this is fodder for the sensationalists all hyped up about Yellowstone at the moment ;-) I am just seriously interested in the mechanisms and the interaction of tectonic movements and magma bodies.

By bruce stout (not verified) on 26 Jan 2010 #permalink

Hello, I was wondering if anyone knew of a link to a site (or sites) that visually shows the depths of these earthquake swarms, rather than just dots on a map? A 3D cross section if you will... Now that Google Earth allows us to go under the surface of the ocean, wouldn't it be good to go under the surface of the Earth to see how deep these earthquakes are? The Cascades website has some interesting links eg:

showing the depths of quakes.

Re:Hebgen Lake. Guess what? I have a witness to that---my DH. He was driving Madison Canyon and got tired so he pulled over to take a snooze. He was only .5miles from the slide area! When the quake hit, he thought he had some bad drink and then he figured out it was a freakin' earthquake as he says. He drove back to West Yellowstone, very glad to be alive.

Old Faithful has not been the same since that quake. And another thing that happens when it goes off is that another geyser in the background from the viewing area goes off at the same time. Old Faithful doesn't erupt as high as it used to ,either. I have been to Yellowstone many times and that second geyser is something that did not happen before those quakes to my knowledge. I sure didn't see it on other visits until I went to Yellowstone several years ago.

As far as DI events, the lake is rising on the north end and has been for quite a while. What took the geologists by surprise at Sisters is just that. It was accidently discovered with GPS and unexpected. I suspect they expect anything out of Yellowstone except a massive eruption. In the mean time, it is interesting to see what will be happening next.

I have another question for the volcano community, in part related to the yellowstone discussion. On many volcano descriptions and profiles you encounter a phrase something like "volcano xxx, located within xxx national park". So it seems that many volconoes, even the most destructive ones, also function as preserves for nature, wildlife and other consevation purposes. So my question is whether this function has been assessed in a systematic manner and published. If not, it seems that a world wide inventory of volcano related land preserves might be very interesting on an academic basis and would also help inform policy makers on the risks and benefits of setting these areas aside from development and other forms of human encroachment.

Reflecting back on an earlier discussion on "betting on volcanoes", planners and insurers need to understand how establishing volcano parks(like Yellowstone, Mt. Rainier, St. Helens, Kiluea etc) mitigates social and economic risk while also providing many other benefits.

Erik, does this sound like a good graduate level interdisciplinary research project?

By doug mcl. (not verified) on 26 Jan 2010 #permalink

Boris I believe the '59 and '75 quakes were collapse and fault related. Right now I am watching long duration quakes happening and that is magmatic without a doubt. Saw the same thing on Pinatubo, Redoubt, and St. Helens.

The question is posed though about the monitoring at Old Faithful. Mysteriously the sensor went off line two days in and hasnt been back since. On the other hand the webcam is working and the geysers are out of sync for the previous years and as Diane says, they are not popping as high as they used too. But the mud pots are experiencing a lot more activity in other areas.

I am an NGO as well Boris and I get a lot of worthless stuff across my desk and Yellowstone has been on it twice in a year that makes it a lot less worthless and something that has caught my eye. In fact its on a lot of peoples minds because everyone has caught more than one super-volcano special on the Science Channel. We all know what it means, we all know it will happen again but they always tell us not to worry and all the while in the background they get guys like me ready to go.

A no hitter on Yellowstone? Well two geologists that I know say that this is a bit odd. The difference is that this swarm is increasing in intensity. They are to the point that I paid for a DSL connection so as to have a near real time computer full time loaded on the various working sensor arrays in the caldera from here in Memphis. What do they see? Long, continuous low intensity quakes in the 1-2.5 range with some serious pops in the rhythm. Long continuous isnt a good thing and as stated, we have seen it before. Its only an order of magnitude thing.

The GPS information you cite and I also do to is 2 years old almost. Uplift is continuing on a SW to a NE axis from OFW2 to roughly WLWY and the latest is that they aint letting us see the latest. Those latests I am told are showing a very interesting picture of uplift but they are verifying the data to be sure. I am all a'titter waiting on it. But, they are also not giving up answers on questions that are coming in from other offices. That bothers me.

Swarms happen. This is the second one in just about a calendar year. Both are and were on that axis and a very learned guy told me that the caldera walls are just indicators of the past. The new caldera walls are under their feet out there. His statement was simple. If its going to do something it WILL continue and it will also start to manifest itself in other ways and in other places all within the caldera. Otherwise it goes back to sleep again in a couple of weeks or months. Else start buying property in Old Mexico to take in the influx of American and Canadian illegal immigrants.

Doug-You are referring to what we call, "Dumbasses R' Us" scenario. Its like California though, loaded with faults and directly on it in a lot of cases. Hayward, San Andreas and all as dangerous as a loaded shotgun aimed at the head. They build SCHOOLS directly on top of them. Dumb and when it goes, I get a call, I send my crew and hopefully we get to pull some out of the rubble. Preventable deaths? Sure, but only if you can make money worthless. Chances of stopping building on a volcano thats asleep is zero, same on a fault line. So we sit and wait to see if this mug goes. If it does it does and a large number of carbon based units will be flash fried. My demarcation line for going into help on that one is Oklahoma City if it does and thats only to evac them out. Everyone west of that.... toast.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 26 Jan 2010 #permalink

@Randolph: the GPS data in the map is 2005-2009.
Then, remember that the "supervolcano" scenario is the worst-case scenario of all, and also the least likely. Certainly it cannot be excluded at all, but chances that you or I will slip in the bathtub next time you or I take a shower are about one million greater than anyone of us seeing a "super eruption" at Yellowstone or elsewhere. On the other hand, all these things going on at Yellowstone these days might well indicate that it will erupt soon - but most likely on a much more modest scale, something like a hydrothermal explosion, whose effects will be limited to a radius of a few miles.
Then, take an example from our volcano here in Sicily, which one month ago went through two weeks of intense seismic activity. In terms of energy release this latest swarm at Etna was the strongest measured at this volcano in about 20 years (maybe more because before that the monitoring technology here was pretty archaic). Then it all subsided and nothing happened at all. That's what happens in most cases. Not all, certainly. But as you correctly noted, development in hazardous areas does not stop unless something bad happens, and then it's too late. We see these things all over Italy's volcanoes and areas at high seismic risk and exposed to landslides and mudflows, and I fear that we will see many many really bad disasters (like Haiti) happen before Yellowstone will do something serious.

Well it's very interesting all comments being read noted and respected.

Dealing on the larger scale of Yellowstone and the larger possible outcomes probably means we may need to see a little more significant activity before a large scale eruption here becomes apparent. (Then again I'll probably be wrong and it will go without warning)

It's good to guess, hypothosize and discuss scenarios not having witnessed anything we are guessing at.

A possible outcome could be a small pressure relieving eruption in a corner of the caldera.

Interesting all the same but again at the same time.. any other volcano or caldera has the same chance of Eruptive activity at the same time.

Reading all comments with interest but really think it may die down soon...

By Stephen Tierney (not verified) on 26 Jan 2010 #permalink

Well, what I see happening is this;
We all know that the world as we know it is going to end at 6:21 in the morning on December 21st , in the year 2012 because the Mayan calendar and the Discovery Channel say so. As many of Ericâs faithful readers know, it takes time(usually) for something big to happen. The Yellowstone swarm is the buildup to the end of humanity(I have watched it on TV and read it on the internet and it is overdue so I know that this is true). I have a plan. I have a fair chunk of money in my 401K that I am going to cash out shortly. I am also going to get as many credit cards as I can then max them out. I refuse to die with any money in my pocket. Then Iâm going to explore and enjoy this world as best I can, then wait for the end. I am thinking September through December of 2012 will be spent on a warm beach with a drink in hand. Rio is nice that time of year I have been told. What a way to go.
I am disgusted. One cannot stand up in a movie theater and cry fire, yet these idiots in the press and on the Internet are doing just that. Those individuals and organizations cause, the generally ignorant public, a lot. I know of one person at work that has 5 years of MREs(meals ready to eat) in his basement because of that. My Niece is 17 years old, a straight A student, has received an academic scholarship that covers 80% of her room and board but is very concerned about the 2012 âobliterationâ, because the church she goes to is pushing that philosophy. Brilliant, young, but very innocent. I have shown her the facts, the scientific proof, but she is still afraid. Maybe I should not have said that, â if that is what your church is pushing that it is not a church, it sounds like a cult to meâ. She was not happy with me for saying that.
Maybe I should have gone into geology or pschycology rather than electronics and computers. Geology was my first love.
I am disgusted.
So who is joining me in Rio?

Well, a lot of interesting stuff. I am not worried about Yellowstone. I think all the hipe about 2012 is just that. As far as the world ending, no one knows the day or the hour and neither did the Maya. Their calendar just ends. It does not really say anything about the world ending and what I think it is about is the end of an era and it just starts all over again. No major blasts, no major floods, no major quakes, no major storms all happening at once on Dec. 21, 2012. I do believe there will be some indications of that time getting closer. BUT we just don't know. In the mean time, we can plan as if it was never going to happen and live as if it is going to happen tomorrow.

Yellowstone? I guess we will see what it will do. Just remember that in the mid 90's, Long Valley was quaking like mad at the resurgent dome with some hundreds of quakes/week and the CA map would have up to 2000 quakes/week for a while. Most of them at the dome. Now it is pretty quiet with a few quakes at Mammoth Mt.; maybe between 20 and 30. Some are directly under the mountain and others are close, but not under it and they are rather shallow. Just keep watching and wondering what will happen next and check on what is happening now. That should keep us busy for a while.

@GordyS: It is normal for kids of your daughter's age to be afraid of all this stuff. When I was her age, I had it crammed into me that the world was going to end soon, etc., etc., and I was bothered by it. Now I am much older and I see it as something I cannot do anything about so I try to live well, laugh often, and love much. Let's take care of the things we can. As for being disgusted, yeah, the boneheads are all about excitement and sensationalism, and entertainment. As for Rio, nah. I think I will just stay here. Might do a little traveling, but that's about all. Oh, and rockhounding and gold panning. :-)

We missed the world ending.......
it was supposed to happen in 1960 when the Third Secret of Fatima was opened.
Long before most of You were born, i betcha.
i did have an elderly friend whose credit card had a maximum of 89,000 dollars. He was 89 and we thought they made a mistake. He was packing his bags and we thought about charging 80,000 for supplies for the homeless on it.
We figured he wouldn't live to make the payments and he didn't.
But overcame the temptation. nuts///////

I like and respect you Diane. You are wise.

and while we are talking of swarms at supervolcanoes, the current series at Taupo seems to have sprung back to life in the last couple of hours with a few hefty shocks:

They all look tectonic to this layman. The shocks are also getting picked up on the Tongariro and Ngauruhoe seismograms as well so I am not sure where they are centred. Might be at the Southern end of the lake where a swarm led to the evacuation of a village last year. (due to danger of a landslide in a geothermal region)

By bruce stout (not verified) on 26 Jan 2010 #permalink

Thank you for the kind comment, Gordys. I am still learning.

The ancient Mayan civilization fell apart rather quickly and their level of scientific advance was primitive so I don't think they were capable of predicting the end of the world.

Just using my Mark 1 eyeballs here, but Turrialba webcam is showing more than just the normal steam vents. There seems to be a cluster of vents halfway up on the ridge separating the middle and southern(?) crater complexes. It could be 1)I've never noticed them before and 2) it's colder today than normal (likely) or 3)something is changing in the system (possible). Anybody?

Kver - I just took a look and it sort of looks like a cool, dry morning, so the hydrothermal vents might be especially prominent ... but definitely worth to keep an eye on it.

I wasted money on cigarettes for a very long time. I understand it injures my overall health so I wish to stop smoking yet it has been difficult. None of the stopping products did the trick. Then I found the electronic cigarette. It's fortunetly changed my life. No more inhaling cancerous substances feels excellent!

I'm still learning from you, but I'm making my way to the top as well. I certainly liked reading all that is written on your site.Keep the posts coming. I liked it

I feel that is a fascinating element, it made me assume a bit. Thank you for sparking my considering cap. Infrequently I am getting so much in a rut that I just really feel like a record.