Boise State discusses Yellowstone myths

Boise State discusses Yellowstone myths

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Yellowstone is a ticking time bomb, clicking down the seconds to the next eruption, the next big bang, the next ash cloud and the impending doom of a nearly worldwide ash cloud
covering.

Admittedly the Wyoming park is due for the eruption; its last explosion occurred over 600,000 years ago, but the impending doom may be anywhere from 20,000 to 60,000 years from now.

Spectators and visitors of the national park recorded seeing Bison “fleeing” the territory mid-March, a YouTube video captured the sight and went viral convincing viewers that the time bomb was about to tick its last second.

Rest assured, the bison were not running in terror. According to park officials, the animals weren’t even running out of the park—but into it.

“The bison captured on camera were coincidental,” said Jeffrey Johnson, assistant professor in Boise State’s Geoscience Department.  “But there was a big earthquake around Yellowstone at the same time. The myth is that the bison know something we don’t know about Yellowstone. Truth is that animals may be perceptive to small earthquakes in certain situations. However, there is no evidence to show that big animals, bison for instance, are responsive to the small earthquakes.”

The earthquake on March 30 was a 4.8, the biggest to occur in the last year. In the last 40 years, an earthquake larger than magnitude four occurs at least once a year. The largest earthquake in the area was 5.2 in 1977.

There are a lot of myths associated with Yellowstone but a fact is that earthquakes are associated with volcanos.

“Yellowstone is an active volcano, in the sense that it has erupted a lot and will erupt again,” Johnson said. “It will erupt again in the future; there is not a very good probability that it will erupt in our lifetime.”

If the eruptions worked like a clock, we would be due. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, the previous one 1.2 million years ago and the earliest eruption scientists can determine occurred 2 million years ago.

“Bigger eruptions happen less frequently. Yellowstone might wait a half a million years and then it blows up big,”
Johnson said.

Even if Yellowstone blew its lid, Boise would most likely be safe.

“If that were to happen tomorrow that would affect the globe,” Johnson said. “It would be worse for those communities that are downwind from the eruption there would be substantial loss of life. You’d be a lot worse off in Denver than if you were in Boise.”

Student Tim Ronan, geophysics major, agrees.

“Yellowstone is not going to blow up,” Ronan said. “But if it did, the cool thing about Boise is that we are barely in the ash cloud.”