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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Geologist: Yellowstone volcanoes shed light on Wasatch faults

Wilderness can be fatal.

When Mount St. Helens exploded in 1980, it killed 157 people. A 1991 eruption in the Philippines killed 700 people.

But Yellowstone National Park’s volcanoes are 10 times bigger than either of these volcanoes, and new ecological developments could make the likelihood of such a disaster likely.

Yellowstone is a hotbed for volcanic activity, Bob Smith, scientific committee adviser to the U.S. Geological Society, said at a science lecture on March 28 at the Salt Lake City Main Library. He said that an eruption in Yellowstone could bury as much as 125 square miles in lava.

“Lately, there has been unprecedented uplift and expansion of the Yellowstone caldera, an underground gap where some of the magma shoots out and the earth falls in,” Smith said.

Yellowstone doesn’t seem like a source for huge volcanic eruptions because most of the plume, an upwelling of molten material from ?the earth’s mantle, is underground.

Most of the plume’s spread is located in Montana, not Wyoming. There have been jovial questions about which state Yellowstone is really in because of the size of this area in Montana, Smith ?said.

The expectation of a large volcanic eruption is small, and the energy needed would take a long time as the volcanic plate moves about 20 centimeters per year, Smith said.

“The chance of smaller eruptions and earthquakes is much higher,” Smith said.

Earthquakes are actually necessary for geysers to keep erupting.

“It’s the old chicken and egg scenario, which came first?” he said.

The earthquakes and volcano studies at Yellowstone by U students can help give seismologists in Utah a better understanding of ?earthquakes here.

Many of the faults in Yellowstone are identical to faults in the Wasatch, Smith explained.

Smith concluded jokingly with the message: “Visit Yellowstone before it visits you!”

“I think this lecture was great,” said Anastasia Adamkova, a graduate student in geophysics. “I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but now I must go there.”

Although earthquakes and volcanoes can’t be predicted, “We can look at the earthquakes in Yellowstone and study the ones in Utah. It may ?lead to some great results,” graduate student in geology Jamie Farrell said.

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