Intense earthquake swarm rattles Yellowstone volcano

Earthquake swarms, geyser eruptions and ground uplift: Large volcanic areas like the Yellowstone caldera in US-state Wyoming are showing their dynamic processes in different ways. However, sometimes this normal background activity is said to be more dramatic.

You are probably here and reading this text because you think something unusual is going with the world's most famous apocalypse volcano. Maybe because you have seen some activity that you can't explain immediately. But more likely because you came across a newspaper article or a YouTube video that tells you some strange things are happening and you decided to google for further information. If this is the case, please take 3 or 4 minutes to read the following article.

Right at the beginning: I am "sorry" to disappoint you but this article won't tell you that the world is going to end. I would like to talk about news agencies, bloggers, YouTubers and other parts of the internet community who earn money with other people's fear.
And apologizes to everyone for the irritating headline but this is the only way to get the attention of people who are adressed here.

Yellowstone is surely the world's most known - what many people call - "supervolcano". Mostly due to its appearence in different disaster movies, but also because in the very worst case it could threat millions of lifes. This is fact. But it is important to consider the phrase "very worst case". More about that later.
However, as you will probably know, famous people often appear in news if they do something. If Leonardo DiCaprio is meeting the father of his girlfriend, it's worth to write about. Tom Bradys decision to stop playing golf with Donald Trump as well. And of course every little rumble from our Very Important Volcano Yellowstone. A little quake swarm, a new geyser or anything else that people might find interesting.
Sadly - and with almost 8 years of earthquake reporting experience I know what I am talking about - little earthquakes and other rather common geological phenomenas alone do not attract many people.

A large readership is important for all commercial news companies and websites. Website clicks mean potential subscribers, advertize income and, to some degree, prominence. So, if I was a reporter from a large newspaper, let's say... Daily Express and if I want to grab readers and clicks with a story about something that is known to be a dangerous volcano that could kill millions of people in a dystopic, long-term scenario, what would I do?

Telling the truth and say that all these little earthquake swarms are happening there since the beginning of our recordings, that they do not mean anything and that there are absolutely no signs that the volcano could erupt in the near future?

No. Better:

Yellowstone volcano: Earthquake swarm blasts National Park - fears supervolcano may erupt

(The link to this Express article. But I recommend: Do not read this website. Do not give them clicks. Do not motivate them to continue their kind of "journalism".)

... sigh! Headlines like this make scientists want to cry. Especially because most people without expertise knowledge will not be able to know if the described phenomenas are really a sign of something bigger or not. And the answer is: NO, absolutely NO!

The "Earthquake swarm" that was said to "blast" the National Park was actually VERY small. 11 quakes between magnitude 1.6 and 3.1. I am living in Germany, a country without high seismic or volcanic activity and I can tell you even here we see such "swarms" multiple times per year!

It's getting even funnier if you have a look at the argumentation why Express thinks that Yellowstone may erupt: "And some social media users said they were fearful the increased activity around Yellowstone could be a sign the supervolcano is set to blow."

... Social media users are the source. Some random people who spend too much time on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc and leave a comment somewhere. Probably the same people who say the earth is flat, Bill Gates created the Coronavirus and Bielefeld doesn't exist.

But of course, Express wants to be "journalism", so hidden behind 20 paragraphs of context-less quotes, random facts, tons of graphics and ads they also mention some (old) expert statement that earthquake swarms are normal and no reason to worry, even large ones. But... How many people have read until this sentence? How many have clicked on banners, links to other articles? How many people are leaving the website with false knowledge by unscientific, misleading and immoral kind of reporting? And how much money has Express earned with them?

 

Earthquakes (red dots) and young faults (black lines) in greater Yellowstone area. Earthquake epicenters are clustered due to the frequent occurence of earthquake swarms. A high number of faults leads, most of them not related to volcanism, lead to a high earthquake hazard. Multiple strong, tectonic quakes have happened in the last decades, including quakes larger than magnitude 7. The last small volcanic eruption happened 3000 years ago.

 

A business that supports fake news and misinformation, especially in scientific topics and might even support distrust against scientists.

A business that works: Express is publishing articles like this (not only about Yellowstone, but also related to earthquakes and other volcanoes) almost on daily basis. And if a day passes without the potential for another drama fake news apocalypse story, they just take the opportunity and republish their latest article so that it appears again in Google News as a new story. The here quoted Yellowstone was republished at least four times since June 1...

It's not only Daily Express. There are many other newspapers, YouTubers and social media channels all over the globe that are doing the same - all contributing to people's misinformation that Yellowstone would be a dangerous killer that is going to bring an apocalypse within the next years.

In fact there is no reason to believe this. Earthquake activity hasn't been high in the last years. The opposite: There have been much stronger quakes in the past, i.e. the 1959 quake with Magnitude 7. And nothing has happen. Quake swarms in Yellowstone occur on a daily basis as they are affecting almost every volcano in the world. Additionally the geological conditions around Yellowstone are promoting earthquake swarms: A very active hydrothermal system, a continental spreading regime and a lot of old faults. More than 10.000 minor quakes have been detected in the greater Yellowstone area since 2010 but most of them were not directly related to the volcano.
And no: Yellowstone is not "overdue" to erupt. Overdue would mean that there is some periodical eruption cycle with a new eruption every XYZ years. But that's not how volcanoes (or "supervolcanoes", whose eruptions are by the way mostly small and only "super" some very few times) work: They erupt if the conditions are given. This can take days, hundreds of years or millions of years. In case of Yellowstone it is also very likely that the next eruption will be small, as all other holocene eruptions.

However, if you want to get first-hand information about Yellowstone, use the official Yellowstone volcano observatory. There are real experts who observe the activity. Experts who are able to warn if something unusual is happening. And please don't believe rumors that say things are censored! Thanks to transparency of science, censoring seismological data is impossible. These fake news were spread by the same people who earn money with other fake news - a self-supporting system.

Yes, Yellowstone can one day become a dangerous object in the future and it is very important to monitor what is happening. But creating a constant degree of fear and panic will not prevent a disaster. If the distrust in science grows further, future warnings, whenever they will be needed, might not be heard anymore. And then it will be a real disaster.

If you ever come across a text about "unsual" or "large" or "huge" earthquake swarms, etc. near Yellowstone or any other volcano, indicating a  supereruption is imminent, you can almost be sure that they are all lying. They want your clicks, they want your money, not more. Trust in scientists, they are also humans who have no (dis)advantage if you are scared or not. If they tell you to run, then it is time to run.