Yellowstone National Park

The Dark Secret

By Karl White


            Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States because of its beauty. It became the first National Park on March 1, 1872, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the park bill. One of the major reasons why Yellowstone became a National Park was because of its geysers. But what most people don’t know about is the heat source of the geysers: a super volcano, one capable of killing most American citizens. This super volcano is the one, which created the beautiful scenery around Yellowstone and is the one fueling the geysers. Even though the geysers are beautiful it is a sign of a dark secret that lurks beneath Yellowstone. Many people don’t want to know about it and just want to associate Yellowstone with geysers.

            Yellowstone National Park has over 500 geysers, more than half the geysers known on earth. Old Faithful is the most popular geyser in Yellowstone because of the way it can be predicted. Predicting Old Faithful is quite easy to understand. The longer it erupts the longer it will be until the next eruption. For example, if old faithful were to last 3 minutes it would take 71 minutes for Old Faithful to go off again. The eruption will last anywhere from 1.5-5 minutes. The wait time has lasted 44-125 minutes but the average is 90-92 minutes. This geyser can be predicted like this because of its water source.

            A geyser is a spot where water shoots up out of the surface of the earth. A geyser is formed when there is an underground cavern that has two water sources. One hot water source that heats the water, and one cold or warm water source that refills the geyser. When the cavern is filled with hot water it needs to be very compressed or the water will just bubble over the top. In the cavern the water is forced to temperatures over the boiling point and still does not boil because of the compressed state. When the water reaches temperatures way over the boiling point a bubble will cause an eruption. A small bubble of carbon dioxide is then released from the water. This small bubble can break the compressed state of the hot water, forcing air in and shooting water and gas out. That is the sputtering sound you hear when a geyser goes off. All of these geysers seem beautiful and fantastic. A few miles beneath the crust of Yellowstone is their heat source: the Yellowstone volcano.

            The Yellowstone volcano is a spot where the crust or outer layer of the earth is very thin and the magma can slip through. When this happens it becomes a very unstable area where there are many earthquakes. After Yellowstone erupts it creates a very sorean habitat where there is not much competition for life so everything grows up strong and beautiful. It also creates a spot where you can find many geysers. Though the aftermath of the eruption may be beautiful, everything growing before the eruption will die if it is in its ashy grasp. The bad thing is that there are signs telling us that this is in the near future.

            The rim, or Caldaria, of the volcano is 25 by 37 miles. The caldaria of a volcano is the outlining edge of the last volcanic eruption. If this were to erupt again with the same force and magnitude it would wipeout most of the USA. The scary part is there are many signs suggesting that this might happen. Two major signs pointing to the super disaster are earthquakes and the ground rising. The active magma chamber under Yellowstone causes both of these.

             There are 1-3000 earthquakes in Yellowstone Park each year. These numerous Earthquakes are a sign of the magma moving closer to the surface of the earth. The biggest earthquake in the park recently was a 3.8 on the rector scale. This is nothing significant but it shows that something is going on beneath the surface of the park.

            Another sign of the eruption coming to be is the ground movement. The ground within Yellowstone Calder has been rising at a rate of approximately 2.8” a year. This is an inevitable sign that the magma in Yellowstone’s chamber is getting closer to the surface. This, plus the frequent earthquakes show it is coming, but we still don’t know when or with how much magnitude. But there are ways of seeing into the future, so to say.

            The earthquakes might be bad in some ways but also help determine the size of the magma chamber. Using a seismograph they are able to determine the size of the magma chamber because the shock waves move much slower through magma then solid earth. By calculating how slow the waves are going they can determine the size of the chamber, and Yellowstone’s chamber is a big one. There is 4-5 cubic kilometers of magma in the chamber. If that where to erupt it would be 10,000 times bigger then Mount Saint Helen.

            Volcanoes are one of the most unpredictable natural events. There are two things you can’t tell about a volcano before it erupts: When the volcano will erupt, and how big the eruption will be. You can normally always get the general idea of when it might erupt, like maybe within a month but never the exact time. This, plus the fact that you never know how big the ash cloud or lava flow will be, makes eruptions very dangerous and unpredictable.           

             There are three major types of volcanoes: scoria cones, shield, and strato. A scoria volcano is a volcano that has straight sides with steep slopes, and a large summit crater. A shield volcano has very gentle slopes with many holes from which the lava flows. A Strato volcano has gentle lower slopes, but steep upper slopes. A volcano can erupt in two different ways normally depending in the type of volcano. A shield volcano is normally a volcano that erupts very slowly. The lava in a shield volcano come out in a form of liquid. Strato and scoria normally erupt in the form of explosive ash. When a volcano erupts with ash it is much, much more deadly then a lava eruption.

            Ash from a volcano is way different from ash in your fireplace. Ash from a volcano is microscopic rocks that can get anywhere and ruin anything. It gets into electrical equipment and shuts it down. It can easily kill an engine. It is a very destructive material force and at first it might not look deadly but the stuff is so small that it can get into your lungs. When it gets into your lungs it combines with the moisture and it creates a type of liquid cement. If you are in an environment with the ash for to long you will drown.

            Unfortunately, Yellowstone volcano is the type of volcano that puts out all the ash. About 3-4000 cubic kilometers of it would rain down on the USA. But, before this happens there are a few more things that need to play out. It starts with many big earthquakes.

            For the magma to make its final push to the surface there needs to be a big earthquake, maybe even a few big earthquakes. Then the volcano will open up like a zipper. First one vent will open then more and more will open up throughout the days of the eruption. Scientist have made a type of map to predict what the cloud of ash will do. They figured this out by looking at the last eruption, which they have the most information on.

            They put the eruptions into zones. Anything in The first 100 kilometers around Yellowstone Park would be killed by pyroclastic flow. Pyroclastic flow is ash and rock exploding from the mountain and surging towards the ground and spreading across the land. Pyroclastic flows can reach speeds of 700 kilometers an hour and can reach up to 800 degrees C. everyone in zone one would be hit with pyroclastic flows.

            Then in zones 2 and 3, most of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana would be trapped in heavy ash. In zones 2 and 3 there are about 3,000,000 people and all of them would most likely die because of the heavy ash getting into their lungs. Then in zone 4, which is all of Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, South and North Dakota. There is going to be about 15 cm of ash. Even though that does not sound like much, add rain into the mixture and it could easily collapse a roof.

            in zone 5 there will be about 5 cm of ash fall. Again might not seem like a lot but could severely injure your lungs even if you were inside your house. This area of ash touches California Texas and into the Great Lakes. It also reaches most of the grasslands and will severely injure if not kill the animals there. It is also in the area of the grain belt in Minnesota so all of the food there will be no good. Then you get to zone six where there is about 1 cm of ash that stretches to the ester seacoast. It only take one millimeter to close an airport. With no airports you can’t fly anyone out and you can’t fly anyone in. If you can’t fly any one or thing in there is no food coming into the United States easily.

            Unfortunately, it would not end there. After the eruption finally stops, the world will go into an ice age. The tempter will drop 20 degrees worldwide. Because of the ash cloud the sun rays were deflected forcing a sudden drop in tempter. The United States would be a wreck, everyone else would be struggling and all because of Yellowstone, once a peaceful park.

            After I found out about all of this I was wondering why in the first place I wanted to study this. What first made me interested in Yellowstone was how little I know about the place. I think that everyone should know more about Yellowstone. When I was in the middle of the report I asked my family what they thought Yellowstone was and most of them know it only as a park, not a waiting death trap. For now though, Yellowstone is still just a park and hopefully will stay that way for the rest of my life.