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Introduction
Yellowstone Park sits directly over a hot spot. The volcano is quiet today, only the geysers and hot springs remind us that there is a huge volcano under the beautiful scenery. Only 600,000 years ago a huge eruption filled the area with lava flows. After the huge eruption there was a void under the top of the volcano. The weight of the volcano caused the top to come crashing down forming the large caldera in the park. Since the hot spot remains active, another giant eruption will almost certainly occur. The question is, when?        
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Task
A new cycle of volcanic activity has begun. The number and strength of earthquakes have increased; new hot springs have appeared and existing ones have grown. A large area to the northeast of Yellowstone Lake has uplifted again. Your group has been hired to present your predictions about future eruptions. Will it erupt again? If so, when? How much damage will it cause? Each group member needs to take on a different role and then the group will consult with each other to prepare the final presentation. The roles are as follows:

Seismologist - Collect earthquake activity information around Yellowstone. Research predictors of other volcanic eruptions, such as Mount St. Helens.

Cartographer - Map the caldera, seismic activity, uplifted regions, and different geyser activity.

Yellowstone Park Official - The person who knows all of the facts about Yellowstone's caldera and the history of the caldera.

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Process
Seismologist: Magnitude is a measure of the size of an earthquake. There are a variety of methods used by scientists to calculate magnitude, the most familiar of which is the Richter magnitude. The Mount St. Helens volcano reawakened in March 1980 after more than a century of quiet. A magnitude 4.0 earthquake on March 20 was followed by two months of intense earthquake activity.
  1. Go to the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) and do a rectangular search of seismographic activity around the Yellowstone Caldera. Use the following parameters: top latitude = 46; bottom latitude = 44; right longitude = -109.5; and left longitude = -111.5.
  2. Sort this information however it is the most useful for you, i.e. by decade, magnitude, etc...
  3. You may want to graph the information either in a bar chart, scatterplot, pie chart, or whichever is the most useful for you.
  4. Find out about seismographic activity as predictors of other volcano eruptions.

Cartographer: Mount St. Helens intrusion of vicious magma into the volcano, shoved the north flank outward more than 300 feet and created the famous 'bulge.' Repeated surveys during April and May showed that the bulge was growing northward at an average rate of about five feet per day.

  1. Obtain a map of the Yellowstone Park (there are several links below that provide maps). The Yellowstone Park Official may be of help in this area also.
  2. Find out about the seismic activity in that region from the Seismologists and create a seismic map. You may want to look at the seismic maps developed by the University of Utah.
  3. Also include mapping information about geyser activities and uplift areas.
  4. All of this information may appear on one or more maps.

Yellowstone Park Official:  Eruptions at Yellowstone can produce great volumes (hundreds to thousands of cubic kilometers) of rhyolitic ash that can cover large areas of the western United States. Because of their rhyolitic composition, eruptions at Yellowstone are extremely violent.

  1. Find as much information as you can about the Yellowstone caldera, i.e. its size, how it was formed, its location.
  2. Determine when it last erupted.
  3. Determine how large of an eruption the Yellowstone caldera can produce, particularly compared to other volcanoes.
  4. Provide information to the seismologist and the cartographer as needed.

Whole Group:

  1. Present to the class your predictions for the Yellowstone caldera. Have documentation for your predictions and visual aids. See Evaluation below.
  2. The probability of the caldera erupting in any particular year can be estimated at 0.000001429% (worse odds than winning the lottery). Is this the same as 0% probability? Explain.
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Resources
These hyperlinks should open up in a new window so that you can view the URL and possibly investigate some more. Remember to close windows that you are no longer using.

On-line resources:

Off-line resources (if available):

  • Pierce, K.L., and Morgan, L.A., 1992, The track of the Yellowstone hotspot: volcanism,
    faulting, and uplift: Geological Society of America Memoir 179, pages 1-53.
  • Smith, R.B., and Christiansen, R.L., 1980, Yellowstone Park as a window on the Earth's
    interior: Scientific American, volume 242, pages 104-117.
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Evaluation
View the Group Presentation Rubric

Yellowstone is the largest and oldest national park system in the United States. Geysers, which occur in very few other places in the world, occur here in profusion, along with hot springs, steam vents, and associated phenomena. These are usually the main interests of visitors to the park. Most people are not aware that Yellowstone is becoming increasingly active and dangerous. While scientists have yet to fully understand the massive power of the geothermal features of the park, which are extraordinary and beautiful, the forces can also be life-threatening and destructive.

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