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U.s. Geological Survey

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Locating earthquakes in Yellowstone is a time-intensive process that requires the trained eye and extensive experience of a human analyst. But advances in computer algorithms, known as “machine learning” tools, hold promise for automatically locating earthquakes that might otherwise be overlooked, and the dawn of a new age in seismology.

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The ground surface at Yellowstone National Park goes up and down. Since 2015 the caldera has been going down at a rate of about 2–3 centimeters — about 1 inch — per year, but during 2004 –2010 the caldera uplifted at a similar rate. What causes these ups and downs? Well, it’s complicated.

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When it comes to data, Yellowstone National Park is a geophysicist’s dream. There is continuous activity from earthquakes, geysers, and of course, the volcano itself. A keen eye may be able to spot one of the park’s numerous GPS or seismometer stations hard at work, but some of the park’s data collectors are buried deep within the Earth, hidden from sight in boreholes.

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Small hydrothermal explosions — steam blasts — are common at Yellowstone National Park, occurring every year or two. Most happen in the backcountry and are not observed by people. In 1989, however, Porkchop Geyser blew up right in front of several observers on an otherwise sunny September afternoon.

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Henry Wood Elliott was a dedicated conservationist and explorer who, in 1871, helped create the first bathymetric map of Yellowstone Lake. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he declined to leave his name on any feature in Yellowstone. Geologists now honor Elliott’s legacy by referring to a very large explosion crater beneath Yellowstone Lake as Elliott’s Crater.

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For half the year Yellowstone National Park is largely inaccessible to geologists, buried under snow and ice and subject to fierce storms. By May, however, improved weather and melting snow opens the park to field work. The 2021 field season promises to be a productive one for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

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Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientists investigate many aspects of the Yellowstone volcanic system, including the incredible geysers that are the highlight of any visit to the park. After witnessing a geyser eruption, many visitors begin to wonder about some aspects of these incredible phenomena. One question — “how tall was that?” — can be answered by anybody with a few simple tools.

Yes, some of Yellowstone’s thermal areas are cool — as in, no longer hot. Cooling is part of the life cycle of a thermal area. And just as it’s important to keep track of where thermal areas warm up, it’s also important to keep track of where they are cooling down.

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