The Yellowstone National Park was struck by a “very shallow” magnitude 3.1 earthquake on Wednesday, which was said to have been “felt by many” in the region. The region is home to the Yellowstone supervolcano – a caldera formed during three big events – the Huckleberry Ridge eruption 2.1 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption 1.3 million years ago and the Lava Creek eruption approximately 630,000 years ago. Every year, as many as 3,000 earthquakes hit the Yellowstone area, although most go unnoticed.
While they are not an indicator of future volcanic activity, Yellowstone’s seismicity is constantly monitored by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Despite this, some experts think there is more that could be done to protect the world.
Volcanologist and manager of the planetary science section of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Rosaly Lopes, said: “The Yellowstone volcano has the potential to really wreak havoc.”
And Yellowstone Park geologist Jefferson Hungerford added that, currently, “we as humans don’t have the capacity to stop a big volcano from erupting”.
Yellowstone Park was hit with earthquakes
The volcano has suffered three supereruptions in the last 2.1 million years
He continued: “How would we stop an eruption? The underlying premise here is to take the energy out of the system – that energy being heat – and we can’t do that right now.”
Researchers came up with such a plan to “save the world” from supervolcanoes like Yellowstone.
The concept, which in theory would cost around £2.7billion, proposed drilling into the hydrothermal system and attempting to cool the magma.
But it was not received well by all.
Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientist-in-charge, Mike Poland, said: “It’s fun to think about, however, the science isn’t there and the idea is fraught with other problems.”
READ MORE: Yellowstone volcano: ‘Greatest catastrophe ever’ warning as ‘rising magma sign’ identified
Predicted eruption ash clouds from Yellowstone
Dr Poland and Dr Hungerford agreed that if Yellowstone were to erupt, it would be as a lava flow rather than an explosion, just like it did 70,000 years ago.
They added that the best solution was to monitor Yellowstone’s activity closely.
Dr Hungerford added: “We observe Yellowstone volcano by looking at the swelling in the volcano, seismicity, gas emissions and changes in heat from the system.
“None of the signals come close to suggesting any volcanic activity is in our future.”
But Professor of geology at Aberdeen University, Dr Luca Siena, suggested that was not enough.
Yellowstone volcano is constantly monitored by the USGS
He said: “We have to do much more than what we are doing now to try and prevent a supervolcanic eruption.
“These volcanoes are going to do something one day – and this could be in 100 years, in 1,000 years, or even 10,000 years.
“We expect to still be on the Earth in 10,000 years and if we don’t do something to decrease the stress of this volcano, we won’t be able to survive on the surface of the Earth.
“It’s not a problem that we may experience tomorrow, in one year or 100 years but it is surely a problem that, if we don’t tackle it now, it could be too late.
“We should obtain the best possible image of the upper structure of the volcano. Once we know what’s in there, then it can go forward.”
The caldera is located inside Yellowstone National Park
Wednesday’s earthquake should not be a cause for concern.
Volcano Discovery, which tracks such activity, revealed: “Shallow earthquakes are felt more strongly than deeper ones as they are closer to the surface.
“The exact magnitude, epicentre, and depth of the quake might be revised within the next few hours or minutes as seismologists review data and refine their calculations, or as other agencies issue their report.
“Based on the preliminary seismic data, the quake should not have caused any significant damage, but was probably felt by many people as light vibration in the area of the epicentre.
“Weak shaking might have been felt in West Yellowstone.
“Towns or cities near the epicentre where the quake might have been felt as very weak shaking.”