It seems to have come as a shock to many that there’s thermal activity under Yellowstone National Park in the form of a caldera, the scientific term for the volcano that lies beneath the Park. (Some call it a supervolcano, but that’s a scientifically meaningless term, first used by the BBC in 2000. It’s an easy mistake to make, and chances are pretty good we’ve made the same mistake ourselves.) Two recent reports from the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) tracked some normal thermal activity over the past decade, including areas in the park that had risen upwards of 10 inches. This sort of activity, they concluded, was completely normal, though National Geographic responsibly reported that there’s no sign Yellowstone was getting ready to blow. (We’re waiting to actually see the studies before weighing in.)
That, of course, led to plenty of “media” reports that all signals were in place for an eruption. The report actually argued the opposite: that despite the bulge in Yellowstone, there were no indications anything was happening on the eruption front. As they noted on their website:
The National Geographic piece has led to several subsequent articles about Yellowstone, some of which misrepresent the research, current geological activity, and the potential for future eruptions. Geological activity over the past five years includes widespread ground uplift and two notable earthquake swarms. Though scientifically interesting, such events are common in large caldera systems like Yellowstone, and are not indicative of an imminent eruption. Moreover, the research described ground uplift that stopped about a year ago.
So, in essence, the scientists are arguing that the sky is not falling.
That’s not stopped junk scientists like Michio Kaku from weighing in. Yes, we’re aware of the good doctor’s work and his constant presence in the media. He managed to worm his way into CNN‘s coverage of the Yellowstone caldera research this morning:
There’s trouble brewing underground and it’s no joke; Physicist Michio Kaku says a supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is due to erupt.
There’s no way to determine precisely when the explosion will occur but scientists say the ground around the volcano has started to swell, indicating subterranean activity. It was a similar volcano that helped bring an end to the dinosaurs and this one will ‘wipe out the United States as we know it’, Dr. Kaku says.
See the interview for yourself:
This is really just sensationalistic junk science, taking one small bit out of a much larger study and coming to a totally different conclusion than the authors of the studies. That’s fine; Dr. Kaku is entitled to his opinion, however ill-informed it is. Just be aware that the experts studying the Yellowstone caldera have come to a totally different conclusion.