Yellowstone is probably the most popular and well known “super volcano” (Supervolcano meaning a volcano that has created a VEI-8 eruption). The reasons for this are likely due to the fact that it is already a well-known and established tourist destination within the United States. Beyond this, there has been a lot of doom-and-gloom and disaster-oriented stories over the past 10 years after more people learned about the VEI-8 caldera forming eruptions that occurred there.
Beyond its enormous size and history of large eruptions far in the geological past, Yellowstone is a natural wonder with wondrous geysers, vast wilderness, incredible terrain, and more.
What Type of Volcano is Yellowstone?
Yellowstone is a large volcanic system that has spawned numerous large eruption over the past 16+ million years. The largest eruptions that have occurred at Yellowstone have created calderas. Most believe that Yellowstone’s origins are a result of a hotspot mantle plume source, which is the reason why Yellowstone has migrated across the snake river plain over the past 16 million years to its current location, although this hasn’t been fully confirmed yet.
When you speak of Yellowstone as a volcano, most people associated it with extremely large explosive eruptions, although this doesn’t accurately characterize how Yellowstone tends to behave.
Between the extremely large eruptions, there have been many small and mid-sized eruptions at the Yellowstone volcanic system. Rhyolitic lava flows have been very common in the Yellowstone volcanic system.
Will Yellowstone Erupt Again? Will it Erupt
There are many volcanoes in the world that pose a major risk to society, but Yellowstone is not one of them. That doesn’t mean that there is absolutely zero chance an eruption could occur at Yellowstone in the next 100 or so years, but this is very doubtful, and any eruption that would occur likely wouldn’t be similar to the VEI-8 caldera blasts we’ve seen in the past.
Some proponents say that Yellowstone is overdue to erupt, but this is based on faulty logic and a misunderstanding of the volcanic system.
Yellowstone has seen uplift in the caldera floor, and it has also seen subsidence. Some view these as signs that a major eruption is coming, but the uplift and subsidence at Yellowstone is actually quite normal for large caldera volcanoes.
Realistically, most of the magma at Yellowstone is too cold to erupt, so a new eruption of any notable scale would likely require an extremely large injection of basalt from depth to heat up the crystallized magma before any sizable eruption would occur. This process would likely take some time, and would also probably be extremely noisy on seismic readings.
Yellowstone is a Fairly Unique Volcano
Yellowstone is a fairly unique volcano in the world, not only because of its size, but also due to many other reasons.
- First, there are no other volcanoes in the world that have the geysers and geothermal features that are even remotely similar in scale to Yellowstone. Geysers exist elsewhere, but very few of the major caldera volcanoes around the world show similar levels of geysers, hot springs, and other water-based features that are so well known at Yellowstone. This is likely a product of more groundwater in the region around Yellowstone.
- Yellowstone is currently the only massive caldera system in the world that does not sit near a subduction zone. Most other super volcanoes sit within active subduction zones such as Taupo, Toba, the Altiplano calderas, etc.
- The hotspot track does not accurately reflect plate motion as it moves on a curve instead of in a linear motion. There are a few theories for this, but it is one reason why some feel Yellowstone may not owe its origins to a deep mantle plume.
For more reading on Yellowstone, here are some great resources and learning tools.