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Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles

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Volcanism in the Yellowstone region has generated a lot of ash over the last several million years. Rivers, including the ancestral Missouri River, have played an important role in distributing this ash across the landscape of southwestern Montana.

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Locating earthquakes in Yellowstone is a time-intensive process that requires the trained eye and extensive experience of a human analyst. But advances in computer algorithms, known as “machine learning” tools, hold promise for automatically locating earthquakes that might otherwise be overlooked, and the dawn of a new age in seismology.

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The ground surface at Yellowstone National Park goes up and down. Since 2015 the caldera has been going down at a rate of about 2–3 centimeters — about 1 inch — per year, but during 2004 –2010 the caldera uplifted at a similar rate. What causes these ups and downs? Well, it’s complicated.

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When it comes to data, Yellowstone National Park is a geophysicist’s dream. There is continuous activity from earthquakes, geysers, and of course, the volcano itself. A keen eye may be able to spot one of the park’s numerous GPS or seismometer stations hard at work, but some of the park’s data collectors are buried deep within the Earth, hidden from sight in boreholes.

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Small hydrothermal explosions — steam blasts — are common at Yellowstone National Park, occurring every year or two. Most happen in the backcountry and are not observed by people. In 1989, however, Porkchop Geyser blew up right in front of several observers on an otherwise sunny September afternoon.

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