Thursday, January 08, 2009

Expert: Quakes could alter Yellowstone

Quakes could alter Yellowstone

JACKSON, Wyo. -- The recent swarm of small earthquakes in Yellowstone National Park could alter some of the park's thermal features but should not raise any concern about the park's large volcano erupting anytime soon, a researcher said.

More than 500 earthquakes have been recorded in the area around Yellowstone Lake in the past 10 days.

The earthquakes appear to be subsiding and caused no property damage. But they have left scientists and park officials wondering what it means for the world's first national park.

While the park has experienced earthquake swarms before, the recent activity is unusual because of its intensity.

Robert Smith, a professor of geophysics at the University of Utah, has studied Yellowstone's seismic activity for the past 40 years.

As director of the Yellowstone seismic and GPS network, Smith is overseeing a team of researchers in the Department of Geology and Geophysics who are reviewing data from each of the tremors. The team has analyzed 300 of the earthquakes so far.

"Earthquakes ... up to magnitude 3.9 are considered small," he said, explaining that the largest earthquakes in the past week or so were felt at Grant Village and Old Faithful. "...The concern that we have is that this is such an energetic swarm."

While Smith doesn't anticipate any volcanic eruptions as a result of the earthquake swarm, he said there is potential for hydrothermal explosions and more earthquakes.

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