Sunday, December 2, 2012

How might Yellowstone look 1,000 and 100,000 years in the future?

Yellowstone National Park is a beautiful location that people can visit to enjoy the natural world. The natural landscape is constantly changing. Yellowstone is no exception to this. When trying to predict what this park might look like in the future, it is important to remember that Yellowstone is an active volcano.

The past volcanic activity has had a drastic effect on the current landscape of Yellowstone. Passed eruptions of the volcano underneath Yellowstone have created a large crater that most of the park lies in. According to Richard A. Lovett author of Yellowstone Eruptions more Numerous then Thought? “…a roughly 40-mile-wide crater formed by the collapse of a massive volcanic cone during the area’s most recent super- eruption some 640,000 years ago”(Yellowstone Eruptions more numerous then Thought?).

(Image shows the outlines of several calderas in the Yellowstone area. Image from Google Images).

When the magma chamber of a volcano empties in an eruption, the empty chamber can no longer support all the heavy material above it and collapses.
(Video shows how a caldera is formed using flour and a balloon to represent the crust of the Earth and a magma chamber. Video from
As the video shows, the flour or crust of the Earth stretches as the caldera is formed. This stretching makes the crust thinner around the edges of the caldera, this means that the magma under the park is closer to the surface and can heat any water that is between the magma chamber and the crust. This is how geysers such as Old Faithful are created, as well as, hot springs, and mud pots.
(Image shows how a caldera is formed, and how the caldera leads to the formation of geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Image from Google Images).

 (Video shows several different volcanic forms in Yellowstone. Video from

Yellowstone 1,000 Years in the Future 

There have been dozens of articles and documentaries created in the last few years saying that the Yellowstone volcano may explode soon. While an eruption of a volcano is always possible, it is highly unlikely that Yellowstone will have a large eruption such as the one that formed the Yellowstone caldera. It is much more likely that Yellowstone will continue to have small eruptions; not the famed “super volcano eruptions” which are believed to have the power to plunge the entire earth into a volcanic winter. This is because according to Bob Christiansen in the article When Yellowstone Explodes by Joel Achenbach, the Yellowstone hotspot that is responsible for the volcano is now under the thicker crust that is at the base of the Rocky Mountains. This makes an eruption much less likely (When Yellowstone Explodes). A thousand years in the future it is much more likely that other geographic phenomenon will affect Yellowstone’s appearance, such as small earthquakes or small volcanic eruptions.
     The global climate change our planet is currently experiencing will have a drastic change on the landscape of Yellowstone. According to a Yellowstone Wiki article about vegetation, Yellowstone’s forests are primarily made up of Lodgepole pine trees, along with the Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, Subalpine fir, and Limber pine (Vegetation). All of the species of pine trees rely on the colder temperatures that occur from the higher elevations within the park. According to the Glacial Forms and Processes Lecture, there has been a pattern of pine trees migrating northward as the temperature of the planet increases (Glacial Forms and Processes Lecture). As our planet’s temperature continues to rise in the next thousand years, the large pine tree forests that cover the park will begin to migrate to colder areas, leaving the landscape open for new types of vegetation to live in the area once dominated by pine trees.

(Image shows pine forest near a geothermal feature in Yellowstone. Image from Google Images). 

Yellowstone 100,000 Years in the Future

       The landscape of Yellowstone is likely to experience a large volcanic eruption within the next hundred thousand years. The reason the eruption is more likely further into the future is because of plate tectonics. Currently the hot spot is under the thick crust of the Rocky Mountains, since the plates under the Earth’s crust are in a constant state of slow motion the hotspot will not stay under Wyoming.

(The map above shows the calderas made by the hot spot. By tracking the path of the calderas, it appears that the tectonic plate is roughly moving in a south west direction. Eventually, the hotspot will move out from under the thick crust of the Rocky Mountains; to an area where the crust is thinner.  Image from Google Images).

(Image shows a map of the Rocky Mountains with Yellowstone in the bottom right corner. Image from Google Images).

Once, the hotspot has moved from under the thicker crust,a large volcanic eruption is likely to occur. During the time the hotspot is under the crust of the Rockies the magma chamber is becoming larger, when it is no longer under the thicker crust; it will erupt, and the volume of magma release will be significant. Once the magma has been released, the empty chamber will collapse forming another caldera.
       The beautiful geothermal features, and the large pine forests that Yellowstone National Park is known for, are not permanent fixtures of the landscape. These two features will disappear in the next thousand to hundred thousand years, leaving a very different physical geography behind.

Achenbah, Joel. "When Yellowstone Explodes". National Geographic. August, 2009.
 Caldera Demostration video from
Geothermal Features of Yellowstone video from
Glacial forms and Processes Lecture
Lovett, A, Richard. "Yellowstone Eruptions more Numerous then Thought?". National Geographic. May, 2011.
Yellowstone Wiki. "Vegetation".

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Climate and Weather of Yellowstone

The climate and weather in Yellowstone National Park have often been called “unpredictable”.  Understanding the processes that create weather can help decipher the seemingly random patterns. The words climate and weather are often used interchangeably, however they are very different. Climate is the average of the weather conditions over a long period of time; weather is the current conditions of the area.

     One of the most important physical features of Yellowstone that contributes to the climate is its location. Continentality explains how a location's interior remoteness from the sea can affect temperature and climate. Land surfaces heat faster and cool faster than water. This is why locations near the coast have less temperature variations then land locked locations. Yellowstone is located inland, and also has a wide range of temperatures. The lowest temperature recorded was -66 degrees Fahrenheit, while the summer average is around 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. (Wikipedia).
(This image shows the coast lines and their warmer temperatures. The darker colors show colder temperatures. Image courtesy of Google Images).

            Another reason for the drastic temperature differences in Yellowstone is its altitude. Yellowstone’s average altitude is 8,000 feet (Wikipedia). Higher elevations tend to be colder because there is less pressure from the atmosphere. Locations that are at sea level have more pressure from the atmosphere, pressing on the air molecules making the air more dense (Earth’s Temperature and Climate Lecture). The denser the air, is the more heat is transferred between molecules, making the surrounding area warmer. If a location is at a higher altitude the molecules are less compacted and less heat gets transferred. These two phenomena are the same across the globe, but there are other processes that affect climate on a local scale.

(This graph shows the temperature diffrence between a mountain top and the coast. Image courtesy of Google Images).

     The Rocky Mountains cut across Yellowstone and are largely responsible for the wind. As warm, moist air rises on the windward side of the mountains, the moisture condenses and rains. Having lost most of the moisture on one side of the mountain the air temperature rises and flows down the leeward side (Weather Lecture). This is how the Chinook winds are created, and is the reason why hikers who are unprepared with a wind breaker can suffer hypothermia from the wind chill.

(This diagram shows how the Chinook winds form. Image courtsey of Google Images).

Earth's Tempture and Climate Lecture
Weather Lecture

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mass Wasting in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park has had several instances of mass wasting in its history. Mass wasting is the “the down slope movement of angular slope material”. The term “landslide” encompasses all types of rapid mass wasting (Mass Wasting lecture).  The landslides in Yellowstone have received quite a bit of media attention as they have closed roads and damaged property. There are several reasons why the Yellowstone area is prone to landslides.
 (Picture showing cars on a road in the middle of a debris flow. Picture courtesy of the National Park Service)

The first reason why Yellowstone has rapid mass wasting is because of gravity. This force acts on every object on earth, including Yellowstone’s mountains and hills. Gravity causes the colluvium or angular slope material to slide downward.
(Diagram showing the effect of gravity on a slope. The gravity causes stress on the slope, which leads to a landslide. Picture courtesy of Google Images)

Another important factor to consider in determining why an area has mass wasting is whether the slope is permeable or impermeable. Impermeable slopes do not absorb water, and therefore do not have a lot of vegetation. Permeable slopes, like those in Yellowstone, absorb water and are heavily vegetated; they usually lead to slower mass wasting phenomenon like creep. This occurs when the slope gradually moves downhill as a result of the soil swelling and shrinking as it gets wet and dries out. This has occurred in Yellowstone, causing damage to hiking trails and trees.
(Example of a permeable hillside. The hillside has a lot of vegetation; showing that the soil absorbs water. Picture courtesy of Google Images)
 ( An Example of an impermeable surface. The rock is unable to absorb the water. Picture courtesy of Google Images)
( A diagram of creep's effect on trees. Picture courtesy of Google Images)
( A real life example of creep. Picture courtesy of Google Images)
     The permeability of the slope explains why Yellowstone has had landslides after forest fires and heavy rain. A forest fire can kill thousands of trees; the roots of the trees help absorb water, as well as anchor the soil to the hillside. Without the stability of the tree roots, the hillside is in danger of collapse. When the rain fall is heavy the soil on the hillside becomes over saturated, and turns into a mudslide or a debris flow, both of which are highly viscous. The difference between the two is in their contents. A mudslide has a lot of mud, with very few rocks. A debris flow has high amount of mud as well as a high amount of rock debris. Both forms have caused damage to roads, hiking trails, and property in Yellowstone National Park.
( Example of a mudslide after a forest fire. The trees closest to the camera show fire damage on their trunks.  This picture also shows damage to a road in the path of the mudslide. Picture courtesy of Google Images)


1.      Mass Wasting Lecture


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What is Responsible for Yellow Stone's Volcanos?

There are two theories that have been used to explain the volcanic activity of Yellow Stone National Park: plate tectonics, and hot spots.

      Plate tectonics is a theory that has been used to explain why our planet is shaped the way it is as well as the phenomenon that occurs on Earth’s land masses. The Yellow Stone area is no exception; an important aspect of the famous volcanic activity of the region can be explained by the theory of plate tectonics.

          The Earth is comprised of several layers of different materials. The two most important layers to the plate tectonic theory are the Lithosphere, or crust, and the Asthenosphere which is the layer beneath the crust. The Asthenosphere is comprised of molten rock that. This rock is heated by the Earth’s core as the core heats the Asthenosphere currents of warmer material circulate with cooler material to create a liquid current just like in Earth’s oceans. This current causes the crust on top to move in different directions.

        The crust of the Earth is not one solid piece of rock, rather different plates that our oceans and continents sit on. The boundaries of these plates are widely known for their volcanic activity, earthquakes mountain ranges, and under sea subduction zones. Yellow Stone however, does not sit on a plate boundary, so what could explain the volcanic activity here?      
       The hot spot theory builds on the idea of plate tectonics that explains how Yellow Stone was created. This theory says that as the continents drift there are areas of the Asthenosphere that are hotter, in these areas the molten rock can putrid through the crust of the Earth, causing  a trail of volcanic activity.
     Yellow Stone may not be known for a large cone volcano, like the one that created the island chain of Hawaii, but the hot spot that created Yellow Stone may be larger than Hawaii’s. The Yellow Stone volcano has had a series of large eruptions that are responsible for creating the Yellow Stone caldera. A caldera is a large area of land that has collapsed due to the force of a volcanic eruption.

   The theory of plate tectonics and hot spots are two theories that best explains Yellow Stones unusual amount of volcanic activity.
URL's for Pictures

Sunday, August 26, 2012


        My name is Nicole Fischer, I am a third year psychology student at the University of Colorado at Denver. I have chosen to blog about Yellowstone National Park. There are three reasons why I have chosen to blog about this area.
       The first is I have taken many family vacation's to the Grand Teton National Park, which neighbors Yellowstone. I having spent so much time at this national park I know a lot of information about it, but I hardly know anything about Yellowstone. It seems only fitting that I learn about Yellowstone as well.
       The second reason why I chose to blog about Yellowstone is the hydrothermal activity the park is known for. This activity is a type of underground volcano. Volcanoes are typically viewed as places that ooze lava and are unable to support life, this is in stark contrast to Yellowstone, which is abundant in different forms of life. These life forms are not just limited to extremophiles; highly adapted species that have developed to live in one particular extreme environment, Yellowstone has species that often live in less extreme environments such as wolves, bison, and grizzly bears. What is it about this area that has the largest amount geysers in the world, and yet hundreds of species of plants and animals are able to thrive here?
     I hope that after this course I will be able to vist Yellowstone National Park and be able to identify, why this enviroment is the way it is, and what geographical features allows for so many species to live there.