Friday, September 26, 2003

Since I have exhausted myself in questioning the LCMS up to this point, I wanted to address something that popped up in my boss' e-mail today: Yellowstone. As some of you know, I am a better geologist than theologian, and, while this topic is outside my area of specialty, I am informed enough about how this works to give a informed opinion on the subject. Why would I want to talk about Yellowstone? The park had to close an area because the ground was getting too hot this summer. You may be asking yourself what in the world am I talking about. The area of Yellowstone National Park contains a caldera approximately 80x40 km in size. For those of you that do not know what a caldera is, it is a giant volcano that exploded with such force that the volcano collapses upon itself after a massive eruption. A new magma chamber has formed underneath Yellowstone and is currently filling. Due to this filling, Yellowstone is rising. Currently, there are areas of the park that have risen two feet since 1923. Some areas are rising at a rate of 3/4 of an inch a year or greater. This may not seem like much to the average person, but, considering geologists discuss rates like this most of the time in term of inches or centimeters per 1000 years, you get an idea of why flags are going up in my head. If the volcano were to erupt, it would throw tens of cubic miles of ash into the atmosphere, and would be bigger than any volcanic eruption in recorded history. It would make Mt. St. Helens look like a coke bottle exploding after a kid shook it too long. The climatic effect from such an eruption could be devastating.

However, this is no reason to panic. Concerned? Maybe not even that. The situation at Yellowstone is something to keep an eye on, however. The amount of inflation due to the filling magma chamber and does make me raise an eyebrow, but I do not see any immediate danger to the area. Much of the reporting about Yellowstone has been quite exaggerated, and geologists get more grant money if they exaggerate the possible effects of an eruption. That does not mean we shouldn't be aware of the possible danger. The hydrothermal activity that makes the area so popular and beautiful is purely the effects of a giant magma chamber beneath the area.

Information on the Yellowstone area can be found at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Homepage.

No comments: