July 17, 2014 in Washington Voices

Randy Mann: Thermal activity melts part of Yellowstone road

 

Yellowstone National Park – one of nature’s most beautiful locations – lies on top of an active supervolcano with a number of active geysers and hot springs.

On July 10, thermal regions below the park melted a portion of a popular road: Firehole Lake Drive. Asphalt will often soften or melt when air temperatures exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Observers also reported some “uplifting” of the road, which may be caused by the rising of magma deep within the Earth.

The hot spot closed the 3-mile-long road, which is an offshoot of the park’s Grand Loop Road. It provides access to Yellowstone Park’s many geysers and a spring. Hikers have been warned to stay away from this area as there is a high danger of stepping through solid-looking soil right into boiling water.

Scientists who study Yellowstone’s ever-changing thermal features say that similar events are normal for the park. Temperature fluctuations have caused asphalt to become soft or sticky on occasion, but observers say that the melting or “liquefying” of pavement is “extreme and unusual.”

The road, which leads to the popular Firehole Lake, is expected to reopen soon. In early July, photographs show massive amounts of steam that makes it look like there’s a forest fire. In the mid-2000s, there were only patches of steam around Firehole Lake.

One of the key signs that scientists look at for predicting eruptions at active volcanoes is the frequency of earthquakes. In three days earlier this month, Yellowstone recorded 53 tremors. The movement of magma underneath the park will often trigger small earthquakes.

At this point, scientists, including the ones at the U.S. Geologic Survey, don’t believe that an eruption is on the horizon. Since the late 20th century, there have been concerns of an eruption as there was increased ground deformation and earthquake activity, but nothing occurred as the activity soon subsided.

A super eruption at Yellowstone could put our planet into chaos. Scientists believe the last time a supervolcano erupted was about 70,000 years ago at Toba in Indonesia. The massive amounts of dust and ash from an explosion could destroy our nation’s food supply in the central U.S. and dramatically cool the Earth. It would take decades to recover from this type of event. The chances of this type of eruption happening within the next 100, or even within 10,000 years, is extremely small, but there’s always a statistical chance.

Contact Randy Mann at www.facebook.com/ wxmann.


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