A swarm of more than 141 earthquakes is rattling Yellowstone National Park, geologists said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday that an ongoing earthquake swarm that began at 5:52 p.m. Thursday is centered beneath Yellowstone Lake. There have been 40 earthquakes bigger than a magnitude 2, and two have been above a 3.0 magnitude, USGS said.
In the past day, there have been 10 earthquakes with a 2.5 magnitude or greater, according to USGS. The largest was a 3.1-magnitude quake that shook beneath Yellowstone Lake at 8:12 a.m. Mountain Time.
The earthquake swarm is nothing to worry about, geologists said.
“Earthquake sequences like these are common and account for roughly 50% of the total seismicity in the Yellowstone region,” USGS said on Twitter. “This swarm is similar to one that occurred in about the same place during December 2020.”
Some people, however, still worry earthquakes in Yellowstone are a sign that the “supervolcano” that lies beneath the park will soon erupt, which could have regional and global consequences.
“Such a giant eruption would have regional effects such as falling ash and short-term (years to decades) changes to global climate,” USGS said on its website. “Those parts of the surrounding states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming that are closest to Yellowstone would be affected by pyroclastic flows, while other places in the United States would be impacted by falling ash (the amount of ash would decrease with distance from the eruption site).”
The USGS doesn’t think an eruption at Yellowstone is likely for thousands of years. Even with the current swarm, the alert level at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory is green, which is normal.
Earthquakes in Yellowstone typically happen in swarms, according to the park. Swarms happen in many places where there is volcanic activity and occur for a number of reasons. The most common is when water gets into faults in the Earth’s crust, according to USGS.
Yellowstone is Losing Its Snow as the Climate Warms, and that Means Widespread Problems for Water and Wildlife
A new assessment of climate change in the two national parks and surrounding forests and ranchland warns of the potential for significant changes as the region continues to heat up.
Since 1950, average temperatures in the Greater Yellowstone Area have risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 C), and potentially more importantly, the region has lost a quarter of its annual snowfall. With the region projected to warm 5-6 F by 2061-2080, compared with the average from 1986-2005, and by as much as 10-11 F by the end of the century, the high country around Yellowstone is poised to lose its snow altogether.
The loss of snow there has repercussions for a vast range of ecosystems and wildlife, as well as cities and farms downstream that rely on rivers that start in these mountains.
Broad impact on wildlife and ecosystems
The Greater Yellowstone Area comprises 22 million acres in northwest Wyoming and portions of Montana and Idaho. In addition to geysers and hot springs, it’s home to the southernmost range of grizzly bear populations in North America and some of the longest intact wildlife migrations, including the seasonal traverses of elk, pronghorn, mule deer and bison.
The area also represents the one point where the three major river basins of the western U.S. converge. The rivers of the Snake-Columbia basin, Green-Colorado basin, and Missouri River Basin all begin as snow on the Continental Divide as it weaves across Yellowstone’s peaks and plateaus.
How climate change alters the Greater Yellowstone Area is, therefore, a question with implications far beyond the impact on Yellowstone’s declining cutthroat trout population and disruptions to the food supplies critical for the region’s recovering grizzly population. By altering the water supply, it also shapes the fate of major Western reservoirs and their dependent cities and farms hundreds of miles downstream.
We wanted to create a common baseline for discussion among the region’s many voices, from the Indigenous nations who have lived in these landscapes for over 10,000 years to the federal agencies mandated to care for the region’s public lands. What information would ranchers and outfitters, skiers and energy producers need to know to begin planning for the future?
Shifting from snow to rain
Standing at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station and looking up at the snow on the Grand Teton, over 13,000 feet above sea level, I cannot help but think that the transition away from snow is the most striking outcome that the assessment anticipates – and the most dire.
Today the average winter snowline – the level where almost all winter precipitation falls as snow – is at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. By the end of the century, warming is forecast to raise it to at least 10,000 feet, the top of Jackson Hole’s famous ski areas.
The climate assessment uses projections of future climates based on a scenario that assumes countries substantially reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. When we looked at scenarios in which global emissions continue at a high rate instead, the differences by the end of century compared with today became stark. Not even the highest peaks would regularly receive snow.
In interviews with people across the region, nearly everyone agreed that the challenge ahead is directly connected to water. As a member of one of the regional tribes noted, “Water is a big concern for everybody.”
Precipitation may increase slightly as the region warms, but less of it will fall as snow. More of it will fall in spring and autumn, while summers will become drier than they have been, our assessment found.
The timing of the spring runoff, when winter snow melts and feeds into streams and rivers, has already shifted ahead by about eight days since 1950. The shift means a longer, drier late summer when drought can turn the landscape brown – or black as the wildfire season becomes longer and hotter.
The outcomes will affect wildlife migrations dependent on the “green wave” of new leaves that rises up the mountain slopes each spring. Low streamflow and warm water in late summer will threaten the survival of coldwater fisheries, like the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and Yellowstone’s unique species like the western glacier stonefly, which depends on the meltwater from mountain glaciers.
Preparing for a warming future
These outcomes will vary somewhat from location to location, but no area will be untouched.
We hope the climate assessment will help communities anticipate the complex impacts ahead and start planning for the future.
As the report indicates, that future will depend on choices made now and in the coming years. Federal and state policy choices will determine whether the world will see optimistic scenarios or scenarios where adaption becomes more difficult. The Yellowstone region, one of the coldest parts of the U.S., will face changes, but actions now can help avoid the worst. High-elevation mountain towns like Jackson, Wyoming, which today rarely experience 90 F, may face a couple of weeks of such heat by the end of the century – or they may face two months of it, depending in large part on those decisions.
The assessment underscores the need for discussion. What choices do we want to make?
Conservation and tribal groups scored a legal victory Wednesday after a federal appeals court rejected the Trump administration’s bid to remove endangered species protections for Yellowstone-region grizzly bears.
The ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upholds a Montana district court’s decision, means grizzlies in the national park and surrounding area won’t be subjected to trophy hunting.
BREAKING: 9th Circuit upholds district court decision reinstating federal protections for Yellowstone grizzlies, stopping plans for trophy hunts in Wyoming and Idaho. Decision: https://t.co/JzyvLebSQ3
The Trump administration in 2017 paved the way for such hunts by announcing the bears would be losing their federal protections, citing increased population numbers. That decision prompted objections from wildlife advocates who said it rejected science, including the climate crisis’s impact on the bears’ food sources and the need for higher population numbers to boost their long-term genetic health.
Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote in the opinion for court that “because there are no concrete, enforceable mechanisms in place to ensure long-term genetic health of the Yellowstone grizzly, the district court correctly concluded that the 2017 rule is arbitrary and capricious in that regard.”
Matthew Bishop, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center who argued the case, welcomed the ruling.
“Grizzlies require continued protection under federal law until the species as a whole is rightfully recovered,” Bishop said in a statement. “The best available science says not only are grizzly bears still recovering, but they also need our help to bounce back from an extinction threat humans caused in the first place.”
“Misrepresenting the facts to promote killing threatened grizzly bears for fun is disgraceful,” said Bishop, adding that he’s “glad the judges didn’t fall for it.”
According to Sarah McMillan, conservation director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the ruling represents “a triumph of science over politics.”
“This decision solidifies the belief of numerous wildlife advocates and native tribes that protecting grizzly bears should be based upon science and the law and not the whims of special interest groups, such as those who want to trophy hunt these great bears,” she said.
Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
Indigenous Groups Applaud Protection of Grizzly Bear as Liz Cheney Claims Rule Harms ‘Western Way of Life’
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) came under fire this week for claiming that the inclusion of the grizzly bear of Yellowstone National Park on the endangered species list is an attack on “our Western way of life.” Native tribes lobbied to ensure the bear’s inclusion. (Photo: Ania Tuzel Photography/Flickr/cc)
Native tribes and their supporters on Friday defended their push for the continued inclusion of the grizzly bear of Yellowstone National Park on the endangered species list after Rep. Liz Cheney claimed the protection of the bear violates the “Western way of life.”
The bear was officially returned to the list created by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Tuesday, nearly a year after a federal judge found that the Trump administration had exceeded its authority when it attempted to remove the species.
“I would remind the congresswoman that at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition an estimated 100,000 grizzly bears roamed from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast…Now there are fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears and our people live in Third World conditions on meager reservations in the poorest counties in the U.S. Does she really want to talk about ‘destroying’ a ‘way of life’?”
—Tom Rodgers, RMTLCThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) sought to allow trophy hunters to shoot the Yellowstone bears, whose population in the park is just over 700, and to open up the public lands for fossil fuel industries. Native tribes including the Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribes joined with the Humane Society and Wildearth Guardians to fight the administration.
When the bear was officially returned to the list this week, Wyoming Republican Cheney claimed that the so-called “radical” groups were “intent on destroying our Western way of life” and had pushed for a rule that was “needless and harmful to the ecosystem.”
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC), which testified at a congressional hearing in May on the Tribal Heritage and Grizzly Bear Protection Act, took issue with Cheney’s suggestion that hunters and oil companies’ desire to profit off the demise of the grizzly bear trumps the heritage of native tribes and the need for biodiversity.
“So, in striving to protect our culture, our religious and spiritual freedoms, our sovereignty, and our treaty rights—all of which are encapsulated in the grizzly issue—we are ‘destroying’ Cheney’s idea of the ‘Western way of life’?” Tom Rodgers, a senior adviser to the RMTLC, told Native News Online.
“I would remind the congresswoman that at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition an estimated 100,000 grizzly bears roamed from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast,” he added. “That was all Indian Country. Now there are fewer than 2,000 grizzly bears and our people live in Third World conditions on meager reservations in the poorest counties in the U.S. Does she really want to talk about ‘destroying’ a ‘way of life’?” asked Rodgers.
Progressive congressional candidate Mckayla Wilkes was among the critics who took to social media to slam Cheney’s comments, calling them “absolutely surreal” considering the centuries-long and continued destruction of Native tribes’ “way of life” by numerous government policies.
As Native News Online reported, the USFWS worked closely with the fossil fuel services company Amec Wheeler Foster—whose CEO is a former executive of Halliburton, the multinational company whose Cheney’s father led in the 1990s—to conduct a peer review of its proposed rule delisting the bear.
“That puts ‘harmful to the ecosystem’ into its true context,” Rodgers told the outlet.
Cheney introduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act earlier this year to de-list the bear through congressional action.
As Rodgers told Native News Online, however, “There’s more chance of her father receiving the Nobel Peace Prize than her Grizzly Bear State Management Act reaching the House floor.”
Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
Government officials have been closely monitoring the activity in the Yellowstone caldera. However, scientists at NASA have now come up with an incredibly risky plan to save the United States from the supervolcano.
Yellowstone currently leaks about 60 to 70 percent of its heat into the atmosphere through stream water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks, while the rest of the heat builds up as magma and dissolves into volatile gasses. The heat and pressure will reach the threshold, meaning an explosion is inevitable. When NASA scientists considered the fact that a supervolcano’s eruptionwould plunge the earth into a volcanic winter, destroying most sources of food, starvation would then become a real possibility. Food reserves would only last about 74 days, according to the UN, after an eruption of a supervolcano, like that under Yellowstone. And they have devised a risky plan that could end up blowing up in their faces. Literally.
Wilcox hypothesized that if enough heat was removed, and the temperature of the supervolcano dropped, it would never erupt. But he wants to see a 35% decrease in temperature, and how to achieve that is incredibly risky. One possibility is to simply increase the amount of water in the supervolcano. As it turns to steam, the water would release the heat into the atmosphere, making global warming alarmists tremble.
“Building a big aqueduct uphill into a mountainous region would be both costly and difficult, and people don’t want their water spent that way,” Wilcox says. “People are desperate for water all over the world and so a major infrastructure project, where the only way the water is used is to cool down a supervolcano, would be very controversial.”
So, NASA came up with an alternative plan. They believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the supervolcano and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46 billion, it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians (taxpayers) to make the investment.
“Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Wilcox says. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh. You would have to give the geothermal companies incentives to drill somewhat deeper and use hotter water than they usually would, but you would pay back your initial investment, and get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years. And the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity.”
“The most important thing with this is to do no harm,” Wilcox says. “If you drill into the top of the magma chamber and try and cool it from there, this would be very risky. This could make the cap over the magma chamber more brittle and prone to fracture. And you might trigger the release of harmful volatile gases in the magma at the top of the chamber which would otherwise not be released.”
The cooling of Yellowstone in this manner would also take tens of thousands of years, but it is a plan that scientists at NASA are considering for every supervolcano on earth.