Yellowstone earthquake swarm . . . biggest swarm in Park for years

Earthquake swarm is near the middle of the caldera.

Yellowstone Earthquake Swarm Puzzles Scientists. By LiveScience Staff

The earthquake swarm begin Dec. 27. The strongest quake has been a 3.9 quake. That could do some minor damage, but the big question is “does it mean anything?” Most questions are about an eruption. This isn’t likely, but changes in the Park’s thermal features are often observed after quake swarms and some big distant quakes.  These changes are often not noticed until the snow melts. Geyser watchers will be very curious to see the outcome.

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The earthquake swarm continued into Jan. 2. There have been a lot of quakes, including three, 3+ quakes Jan. 2. The strongest today was a 3.5 quake. The quakes are shallow. To me that means related to the magma pool just under the Park.

Jan. 3.  Fewer quakes! Has the earthquake swarm ended or just paused?
Jan. 4.  Few  quakes –6 very small quakes.
Jan. 5.  Just 2 small quakes.
Jan. 6. Two more small quakes”
Jan. 7. No quakes
Jan. 8. No quakes
Jan. 9. Eleven quakes, including a 3.3 (restart?)
Jan. 10 No quakes by noon

Link for data






  1. Jim Avatar

    Have the earthquakes altered any of the “normal” thermal activity? It is odd that there are dozens of webistes and message board postings pegging this as the beginning of the end. I have a very hard time believing that, but is an interesting story just the same?

  2. Salle Avatar

    These are relatively small earthquakes given the damage done in other locations when they exceed 5.0M.

    Partially due to the geologic structural configuration of the area surrounding these quakes in the lake, most of them can’t be felt as well as the fact that the high winds in the past few days make it difficult to determine whether the mild building “cracking” sounds are from strong wind gusts or mild earthquakes.

    Here’s a great animation map on the USGS web site that shows the last week’s worth of quake activity in the park and vicinity:

    Just click on the “animate map” button below the map and watch the indicators pop up. they occur in rapid succession in the last few days of the animation, takes about 120 seconds for the entire animation to play.

  3. Salle Avatar

    Oops, the animate button is ABOVE the map but it sill interesting, and worth watching. I wonder if there is magma working its way to a near surface position. Most of this activity is at or near the surface of the lake floor and as the reports indicate, they are “poorly constrained”. That may indicate such activity. It is in the heart of the main caldera after all. There has been some activity on the Madison Arm lobe of land to the south of the Madison River in the past weeks, about eight miles from the Hebgen lake dam and earthquake locations. Remember the dam that was broken last summer? it isn’t far from all this, the lake in the park is only some fifty odd miles away, not far in terms of quakes and such.

    I wonder what the lake ice looks like today…

  4. jdubya Avatar

    Nice map Salle. Maybe the NPS is just dynamiting the lake trout and aren’t telling anyone.

  5. Salle Avatar

    Or maybe it’s the avalanche crew over by Sylvan Pass trying to keep that entrance open for the five or six people trying to get in over there! LOL! Those Howitzers sure do have a kick to them.

  6. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    All I know is that the “newspaper” that I compile has had a record number of hits and unique visitors since this story broke and every one and their brother has posted about the apocalypse about it. Even Garrison Keillor got in on the act!

    While I find the story underwhelming as it currently stands, I am really, really amused watching the doom-a-phobes and what they are writing.

    On the other hand, I’m a little irked. Real disasters are happening all over Yellowstone, but all anyone cares about are the ones they can imagine in their own head. And, when real natural disasters happen, they almost seem to get off on it, but the people in New Orleans aren’t laughing, and I doubt the people in Burma aren’t laughing, either.

    So, mixed feelings – I’m enjoying the stupidity immensely; however, I am bewildered by what people find interesting about what’s happening in Yellowstone.

  7. Salle Avatar

    I have to agree with Jim M about being underwhelmed by all this.

    If you look at the USGS earthquake web site, you can get the most recent earthquake data from everywhere without all the hoopla associated with the doom-a-phobes and their predictions.

    I read the Kiellor piece and find it amusing, I like his story-telling and see that he only includes it as a kind of feature component for the listener/reader to relate to the current time and his thoughts that were invoked by the times.

    But in looking through the other news that is available on the newspaper Jim M compiles, I found this link to a series of webcam views of the area. It looks pretty calm out there at the lake but one that shows the shore near fishing cone, the snow on the shore looks like it had been affected by some waves, it has distinct rippling in the snow and sand…

    Out on the western edge of the park at the Idaho border, there are nasty windy snowstorms going on so the quakes would have to be pretty intense ~ > 4.0 ~ or more to be noticeable. We’d be more likely to feel an avalanche up on LionsHead before we’d notice a piddly 3.? magnitude earthquake on the lake floor. Unless some magma hit the water… THAT would be different indeed.

    Thanks for the link Jim.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The Yellowstone quakes are the most visited post on this blog too.

  9. Chuck Avatar

    In general there have been alot of quakes all over lately, off of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California. Maybe ol mother earth is clearing her throat????

  10. Ed Darrell Avatar

    Yeah, the doom-a-phobes — or maybe we should call them doom-o-philes? — are all over this, with a lot of panic and fear, but very little fact.

    I called the Seismograph Station today. They’re pretty calm. “Not uncommon,” they say. They’re taking normal holiday hours on New Year’s Day.

    Power of television: The BBC/Discovery Channel video of a few years ago (2003?) got the attention of a lot of people. But the experts don’t expect a Big One.

    I’ve posted what I know at my blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. I’m sure you’ll get more checks than I will, though.

  11. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    I’ve just written an essay inspired by this.

    Yellowstone doom: Imagine better this new year

    I’m really struck by how predictable and dull we are – while the Yellowstone supervolcano is not predictable, the reaction to news about earthquakes in Yellowstone is. Doom is the lot of us all, but we are terribly predictable in the way many of us seem to relate to it.

    Anyhow … I hope at least someone finds my musings interesting.

  12. FarDownWind Avatar

    The harmonic tremors have continued, today they have been nearly nonstop, registered on seismometers ranging from Old Faithful in the west to the “inflated plain” on the east side of the lake where most of the quakes have been, ranging from near the surface down to the magma chamber. Geologists around the world are paying close attention to this, as is Homeland Security. It -looks- like a chimney vent is forming with magma movement in it. Of course it might not amount to anything, but it -is- unusual.

  13. Salle Avatar

    This morning at 6:15, there was a 3.2M quake about 3 miles outside of Townsend, MT (just SW of Helena on US287) near the southern end of the reservoir.

    Also, there has been significant activity around the Pacific Rim over the past 24 hours with continuing quakes in the Papua, Indonesia location with a 7.3M accompanied by many at 4.7M – 5.5M in the past 72 hours. Not to mention >5.-ers in obscure locations like Cabo San Lucas area of Baja, Mexico and a couple smaller ones in Central America and in the Azores.

    Rock and Roll!!

  14. Salle Avatar

    Interesting, now that Townsend event is missing from the map and the data sheet is no longer available. Wonder if that was a mistake…

  15. buffalorunner Avatar

    I saw the same thing this morning…weird. Why would the event show up and then disappear from the USGS site?
    There is lots of activity on the seismographs for YNP. Check out website below:

  16. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Yes, they added six 1/5/09 quakes this morning to the two quakes for 1/5/09 this listed on 1/5.

    This doesn’t seem to be a real time list of quakes.

  17. Salle Avatar

    The site I use is usually up to date within ten minutes or so.

    It also has links to show what the local times are by time zone as the reports are in UTC.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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