Despite hundreds of tiny earthquakes that have shaken Yellowstone National Park this year, speculation about a massive volcanic eruption in the offing is largely off base, a geologist says.
"I really don't see any indication that eruption is imminent," Wayne Hamilton, a research geologist for the park, said. "And, believe me, I have a personal interest in this. I live here."
About 600,000 years ago, an eruption rocked the Yellowstone area, sending dozens of cubic miles of lava into the air. By comparison, the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington produced less than one cubic mile of lava.
"If another event like the one that happened 600,000 years ago occurred, Bozeman (Mont.) wouldn't have to worry; Bozeman would be wiped off the face of the Earth," Hamilton said recently.
Bozeman is about 50 miles north of the northwest corner of the park.
University of Montana geologist Dave Alt says that the Yellowstone volcano has blown once every 600,000 to 700,000 years and could be due again.
But Hamilton and other geologists say that volcanic explosiveness and seismic activity are distinctly different phenomena, and that no one can predict when the two may be related to each other.
Dave Lageson, a geology professor at Montana State University, also pooh-poohs the recent hullabaloo over the quake activity.
"People are saying, 'Gee, now we're next to a volcano,' " he said. "Well, how do they think the park got here?