Two years ago, I started a new feature column for Eos magazine called Living in Geologic Time, “a series of personal accounts that highlight the past, present, and future of famous landmarks on geologic timescales.“
My latest column features a place very near and dear to my heart: Yellowstone National Park! I lived just outside the northern boundary of the park, in Big Sky, Montana, a tiny dot embedded in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Even after exploring and learning about the Yellowstone neighborhood for five years, I learned a lot writing this story!
Don’t Call It A Supervolcano: Scientists dismantle the myths of Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first and arguably most famous national park, is home to one of the planet’s largest and potentially most destructive volcanoes. The 50- by 70-kilometer Yellowstone caldera complex is so massive that it can really be appreciated only from the air. But although the caldera isn’t always visible on the ground, it’s certainly no secret: Copious thermal features like hot springs and geyser basins dot the landscape and have attracted people to the uniquely beautiful and ecologically rich area for at least 11,000 years.
As people seek to explain the area’s geology, Yellowstone’s unusually active landscape has inspired myths and legends, from Indigenous origin stories to misleading headlines about the future. Every season, recurring bouts of earthquake swarms trigger sensational stories that Yellowstone could be gearing up for another “big one.” But there’s no need to cancel your family vacation to see the park’s free-roaming bison and grizzly bears: The geologists who keep a very close eye on the Yellowstone caldera system say it’s not going to erupt again in our lifetimes.