Sunday, May 08, 2005

Finally the Geo Survey Says Yellowstone MIGHT be Dangerous

Mt. Versuvius in 63AD

The BBC made this scary TV shos about the possibility of a hyper volcanic event at Yellowstone similar to several previous catastrophic world shaking events. This show was picked up by cable TV and evidently has moved the glacial group of bureaucrats at the US Geological Survey toupgrade Yellowstone's danger rating...a tad.

Yellowstone ranks 21st most dangerous of the 169 volcano centers in the United States, according to the Geological Survey's first-ever comprehensive review of the nation's volcanoes.


Those volcanoes fall within the very high threat group, which includes 18 systems. Yellowstone is classified with 36 others as high threat.

Recurring earthquake swarms, swelling and falling ground, and changes in hydrothermal features are cited in the report as evidence of unrest at Yellowstone.

The report calls for better monitoring of the 55 volcanoes in the very high and high threat categories to track seismic activity, ground bulging, gas emissions and hydrologic changes.


The USGS report recognizes Yellowstone as an unusual hazard because of the millions of people who visit the park and walk amid features created by North America's largest volcanic system, Smith said, a status he has been advocating for years.

Smith does not paint the devastating picture portrayed in a recent TV docudrama but said smaller threats exist. For example, a lower-scale hydrothermal blast could scald tourists strolling along boardwalks.

Emissions of toxic gases from the park's geothermal features also pose a threat. Five bison dropped dead last year after inhaling poisonous gases trapped near the ground due to cold, calm weather near Norris Geyser Basin.

Talk about tip-toeing through the gysers! When I was a child, we were supposed to go to Yellowstone Park with a National Geographic photographer we knew when I got very sick and we stayed home and there was a great big nasty earthquake that killed tourists.

You would think, after this disaster and all the dead tourists, the USGS would declare Yellowstone a very dangerous place to visit, no? Guess again. All these dangerous places are great tourist stops and every once and a while, Mother Nature will hiccup or even throw up and many tourists will..die. This was true in ancient times. Pompeii is a famous example of a tourist joint buried in a volcanic eruption.

Dr. Smith's la de dah attitude about Yellowstone is puzzling. He is worried about tourists being scalded? How about half of America being buried under ten feet of tuff? Slightly more annoying, is it? The USGS wasn't sued for the Mt. St. Helen catastrophe. They were pretty serene about tourists camping all around that volcano. The volcano watchers thought they were pretty far away when it exploded. This proved literally fatal within minutes. More than one tourist died as they desperately tried to outrun the explosion. When I visited the mountain later, it was very sad, viewing the twisted burned out wrecks.

The huge trees ripped up and thrown great distances as well as the trees sundered into splinters. Everything was covered by a thick layer of tuff. The light was so blinding I used my dark glasses to photograph the landscape. This eruption was small. A mere hic up on the scale of one to ten, it was a three or less. Yet it killed many people and rearranged the landscape considerably.

Yellowstone, if and when it blows, can rearrange not only the landscape but the entire planet will change. It can and will change the climate even to the point of causing an ice age if it is big enough. This is a tad more serious than accidentally scalding a few stray tourists.

Just like zoning laws ignore the reality of severe earthquakes in the Mississippi valley or California, we go blissfully forwards, pretending there isn't much brewing under the caldera of Yellowstone.