The caldera of Yellowstone National Park is the source of its exquisite beauty.
But is this geological anomaly an active threat to explode?
We’re looking into the forces behind Yellowstone’s unique natural features to see what exactly lies beneath the park. Keep reading to find out what lurks below the surface.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Yellowstone National Park?
Yellowstone National Park covers over two million acres of wilderness in northwestern Wyoming. More than half of the world’s hydrothermal features, including geysers and hot springs, can be found here.
Human history in the area dates back 11,000 years. When the first American settlers reported on this otherworldly landscape, the general public didn’t believe such a place existed.
President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone America’s first national park in 1872. Millions of visitors flock here yearly to experience the uncompromised beauty and wildlife.
Yellowstone is home to more mammal species than any other place in the US. Bears, lynxes, elk, moose, wolves, and foxes are some of the most notable.
What Is the Yellowstone Caldera?
The most surprising feature of Yellowstone may be that it’s actually a supervolcano. Over two million years ago, the largest eruption on Earth occurred here.
The caldera we know today was formed after another supereruption took place around 631,000 years ago. This large basin in the center of Yellowstone National Park formed when the area collapsed shortly after. This geothermal hotspot is responsible for features like hot springs, geysers, mud pots, travertine terraces, and fumaroles.
What Would Happen If the Yellowstone Caldera Erupted Again?
The chances of another supereruption at Yellowstone are minimal, at least for the next few thousand years. But if it did, the effects would be felt around the world.
Wyoming and nearby states like Colorado, Idaho, and Montana could be covered by three feet of volcanic ash. That ash, made up of glass and splintered rock, could devastate ecosystems throughout the midwest. It could even disrupt the power grid.
Lava flows could extend as much as 40 miles from the blast site. Sulfur aerosols would also spew into the atmosphere, reflecting sunlight and causing the Earth’s temperature to drop.
But realistically, if a volcanic eruption were to occur, it would probably be small. Earthquakes would be felt for weeks or months before any actual explosion.
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Is the Yellowstone Caldera Going to Erupt?
Scientists don’t think the Yellowstone caldera is due for a supereruption any time soon. In fact, they’re not sure the park will ever see another eruption of any kind.
The odds of a supereruption are 0.00014% in any given year. Basically, that means we have a higher chance of being hit by an asteroid big enough to cause mass extinction.
This volcano has been active for millennia, so the Yellowstone caldera may have run its course.
Other Unbelievable Sights at Yellowstone National Park
Within the Yellowstone caldera are some of the most stunning natural features in the US. Here are a few things to be sure you don’t miss.
Yellowstone has over 500 predictable geysers. The park holds 60% of all geysers on Earth. But Old Faithful might be the most famous one in the world. It’s one of the location’s most popular attractions, drawing dense crowds in the peak season.
Since thermal features are constantly changing, Old Faithful may stop erupting someday. Since the park’s establishment, the time between bursts has lengthened by 30 minutes.
Pro Tip: We crunched the numbers to uncover What Does It Cost to See Old Faithful?
Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most phenomenal sights in the Yellowstone caldera. This rainbow-colored pool is the park’s largest hot spring.
Superheated water rises from deep underground near the magma chamber. It cools as it rises and is quickly replaced by more hot water from below. This cycle releases pressure underground, so these pools don’t erupt like geysers.
Microscopic organisms called thermophiles live in these alkaline springs, giving the pools their brilliant colors.
While stunningly beautiful, this water is dangerous and can cause severe burns and even death, so exercise extreme caution near the hot springs.
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
The northern part of the caldera is home to the park’s very own Grand Canyon. The Yellowstone River has carved through the rock, creating a gorge 1,000 feet deep and 20 miles long.
Driving the ridge will give you picturesque views of the canyon’s peaks and waterfalls. Birdwatchers can see osprey perched among the pinnacles or fishing in the river below. And if you want to get up close to the cascades, Uncle Tom’s trail will take you right to the base.
Over 50 geysers, springs, vents, and mud pots make up the area known as the Artists Paintpots. Pools of blues, grey, and browns can dot the landscape. A wooden boardwalk curves through these thermal features.
The Artists Paintpots Trail will take you past Blood Geyser and Flash Spring, two bubbling geysers that are always active. In winter, you can cross-country ski to the Artists Paintpots and enjoy the sight of misty hot springs bubbling up amidst the snowy landscape.
Should You Worry About the Yellowstone Caldera?
The Yellowstone caldera is the ancient force that gives the area its uniquely stunning features. Hot magma still bubbles below the surface, powering geysers and providing a habitat for the many colorful thermophiles of the hot springs.
However, there’s no reason to think this volcano will erupt any time soon. For now, it seems we’re enjoying the heyday of this beautiful park. We get to experience the bright, colorful hot springs, soaring geysers, and epic waterfalls without any threat of explosion.
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