Yellowstone Earthquakes Under Supervolcano Caldera

There are things worse than the credit crisis.

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The headline "Scientists track unusual earthquake swarm beneath Yellowstone" only means one thing to fans of the Discovery channel like myself: supervolcano. Here is what the earthquake center at the University of Utah had to say yesterday afternoon:

 The University of Utah Seismograph Stations reports that a notable swarm of earthquakes has been underway since December 26 beneath Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park, three to six miles south-southeast of Fishing Bridge, Wyoming.  This energetic sequence of events was most intense on December 27, when the largest number of events of magnitude 3 and larger occurred.

The largest of the earthquakes was a magnitude 3.9 (revised from magnitude 3.8) at 10:15 pm MST on Dec. 27.  The sequence has included nine events of magnitude 3 to 3.9 and approximately 24 of magnitude 2 to 3 at the time of this release. A total of more than 250 events large enough to be located have occurred in this swarm.  Reliable depths of the larger events are up to a few miles. Visitors and National Park Service (NPS) employees in the Yellowstone Lake area reported feeling the largest of these earthquakes.

Earthquakes are a common occurrence in the Yellowstone National Park area, an active volcanic-tectonic area averaging 1,000 to 2,000 earthquakes a year.  Yellowstone's 10,000 geysers and hot springs are the result of this geologic activity.  A summary of the Yellowstone's volcanic history is available on the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory web site (listed below).

This December 2008 earthquake sequence is the most intense in this area for some years and is centered on the east side of the Yellowstone caldera.  Scientists can not identify any causative fault or other feature without further analysis.  Seismologists continue to monitor and analyze the data and will issue new information if the situation warrants it.

The University of Utah operates a seismic network in Yellowstone National Park in conjunction with the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). These three institutions are partners in the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

And what if the supervolcano blew? Kind of like if a giant rock hit the Earth. A planet killer. An extinction-level event. Let me quote the words of President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in the comet-hitting-earth film Deep Impact:

Within a week, the skies will be dark with dust from the impact and they will stay dark for years. All plant life will be dead within weeks. Animal life within a few months. So that's it. Good luck to us all.

Such a scenario would be very bad for equity values and the outlook for the labor market.