That Fissure Opening “Near” Yellowstone? Not a Sign of an Impending Eruption.

By Erik Klemetti | July 20, 2018 1:25 pm
The Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Pixabay.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Pixabay.

Many people have pointed out to me that there is a news frenzy about “fissures opening near Yellowstone“. Now, considering that if this were happening, that would be newsworthy, I had to check it out … and with most “news” about Yellowstone, it is much ado about nothing related to the volcano in Wyoming.

Climbers in Grand Teton National Park, to the south of Yellowstone, have noticed that the cliff face at Hidden Falls and Inspiration has been breaking off due to cracks (“fissures”) on the mountain. This crack has made it very dangerous for climbers as bits of the cliff (or possibly the entire face) might come crashing down, taking climbers with it. This sort of thing happens often on exposed rock in mountain areas. They can be easily oversteepened and then gravity does its thing, bringing rock down fast. Yosemite National Park experiences this quite often and people have died in the process. That’s why Grand Teton National Park has closed the area to the public.

However, because this cracking — likely due to faulting or weathering in the Tetons — is happening in the general vicinity of the Yellowstone caldera, many in the media have wrongly connected these cracks with the volcano. Let’s get it straight right now: this is in no way a sign of impending eruption at Yellowstone.

Some sources have even tried to say things like “Grand Teton National Park sits atop the Yellowstone supervolcano“. This is just wrong. Even when you look at the footprint of the volcanic system at Yellowstone (see below), it is a massive stretch to say that the Tetons are “over” Yellowstone. The Grand Teton mountain range were formed by the stretching of North America and formed in the geologically-recent past (the last 10 million years). Yellowstone is there due to a hotspot under North America and is not the cause of the Teton range. Connected the two directly is just a gross violation of correlation (location) leading to causation (fissure formed due to the volcano … which it didn’t).

Map of the Yellowstone caldera. The Grand Tetons (and this fissure) are to the south, beyond the extent of this map. USGS.

Map of the Yellowstone caldera. The Grand Tetons (and this fissure) are to the south, beyond the extent of this map. USGS.

Even the portrayal of the fissure as “vast” is overblown. Reports say it is 100 feet long. That’s 30 meters. That is small. I realize that with the eruption in Hawaii, people are now attuned to hear “fissures” and “volcano” and jump to new conclusions that an eruption will start, but this is not the case here. There is no magma body near the surface under the Tetons — and no other signs like earthquakes or gas release. So, no eruption is coming, especially from a 30 meter fissure over 100 kilometers from Yellowstone.

Remember, always trend cautiously when you read about people saying Yellowstone is going to erupt soon. The only real source for news that the conditions at Yellowstone are changing is the USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Beyond that, 99% of all Yellowstone news that implies eruption is just an attempt to scare people into reading articles.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Rocky Planet, Science, Science Blogs
  • Moretiredofit

    These people, (fake news people), need some sense slapped into them.

  • Garry Compton

    Only Idiots would agree with Government Agencies opinions and assumptions!

  • Margaret

    What seems related to this fissure is that the Steamboat geyser has recently become active and Old Faithful is no longer as predictable as it used to be several decades ago.

    • mjkbk

      Steamboat Geyser is nearly 100 miles away from the cliff-face fissure near Jenny Lake. There IS no relationship between the two (nor with Old Faithful).

      • Margaret

        Why do you think the Steamboat geyser has erupted recently? Even Old Faithful’s less predictable nature suggests something is changing which isn’t calming. I realize timing is unpredictable, whether an eventually ooze or blow, but clearly it’s activity has increased. There is that perceptible bulge.

  • David Hands

    I’ve been watching the Hawaii events since the recent (May of this year) change in behaviour. One thing I have noticed is the plethora of video channels that have sprung up on youtube – they all use alarmist headlines to grab your attention and they’re all using old footage cobbled together. They ignore volcanologists, they dismiss the USGS, they know better than anyone else.
    Pure clickbait, nothing more.
    And so, for me, a whole range of youtube posters have been revealed for what they are – shrieking children looking to cash in on people’s tendency to believe they’re not being told the full truth.

  • Enemyof Thehive

    Got any pictures of these fissures?

  • p.macmillan

    Thank you Eric that was very informative.I heard that kevin Costner while filming new show set cameras too close to a fissure and the electro static stimulation caused the fissure to start rapidly fissering leading to absolute decay of the underground layer………. Naa Im kidding thanks for setting us straight.Paul M.


Rocky Planet

Rocky Planet covers all the geologic events that made and will continue to shape our planet. From volcanoes to earthquakes to gold to oceans to other solar systems, I discuss what is intriguing and illuminating about the rocks beneath our feet and above our heads. Ever wonder what volcanoes are erupting? How tsunamis form and where? What rocks can tell us about ancient environments? How the Earth might change in the future? You'll find these answers and more on Rocky Planet.

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