In the past 28 days, the Yellowstone area in Wyoming, USA, has been hit by 73 earthquakes. All of the tremors have been relatively small with the largest registering at 2.6 on the Richter scale on April 29. However, since the start of May, the tremors have become slightly more frequent, with 10 of the quakes hitting since Monday alone, according to monitoring from the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Despite the quakes being weak, experts have warned that it is not necessarily about the strength of an earthquake around a volcano, but more the quantity of them.
Portland State University Geology Professor Emeritus Scott Burns said a spate of small tremors around a volcano usually signifies that magma and gasses beneath the surface are beginning to navigate their exit.
He said: “If you get swarms under a working volcano, the working hypothesis is that magma is moving up underneath there.”
However, others disagree about whether an earthquake swarm near a volcano could be a sign of things to come.
Jamie Farrell at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, believes this is just part of the natural cycle for Yellowstone volcano, saying: “Earthquake swarms are fairly common in Yellowstone.
“There is no indication that this swarm is related to magma moving through the shallow crust.”
The upturn in quakes has also been accompanied by a sudden eruption of the Ledge Geyser.
The Ledge Geyser, which is the second larges in the Norris Geyser Basin, had not shown any activity for three years before its eruption in April 28.
An eyewitness describing the eruption on GeySer times. They said: “Observed in Steam phase. Main (Red) vent in heavy roaring steam that was heard from parking lot. Having to yell to talk to each other.”
Geysers like those at Yellowstone erupt whenever water and steam get trapped in a tight spot deep below the geyser’s blowhole.
The mix of water and steam builds in pressure until it finds its way to the surface where a tall stream of scorching hot water blasts hundreds of feet in the sky.
Experts will continue to analyse the geysers to see if they indicate any sort of impending eruption for Yellowstone.
If the Wyoming volcano were to erupt an estimated 87,000 people would be killed immediately and two-thirds of the USA would immediately be made uninhabitable.
The large spew of ash into the atmosphere would block out sunlight and directly affect life beneath it creating a “nuclear winter”.
The massive eruption could be a staggering 6,000 times as powerful as the one from Washington’s Mount St Helens in 1980 which killed 57 people and deposited ash in 11 different states and five Canadian provinces.
If the volcano explodes, a climate shift would ensue as the volcano would spew massive amounts of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which can form a sulphur aerosol that reflects and absorbs sunlight.