Scientists confirm 500-mile finger of molten rock under Yellowstone-

Park’s giant magma plume eating up mountains. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole Daily.

Actually the hot spot is probably stationary. The apparent surface movement is due to the North American plate drifting to the southwest over the spot. The new information (at least to me) that is interesting is that the top of the plume is deformed like the wind blows smoke from a fire. So while the internal origin of the actual hotspot may still be under what is now SE Oregon, the magma rises at an angle. It rises toward the northeast.

I was also interested to learn that the source of the hot spot is very deep in the Earth. It is at least 500 miles deep. It might go all the way to the core.

The fact that the plume rises at an angle might well explain geologically recent volcanic activity well to the southwest of Yellowstone Park, e.g., the Craters of the Moon lava flows and cinder cones and the lesser known Willow Creek cinder cones and lava flows to the north of Soda Springs, Idaho. It might take a long time for the continental plate to pass completely over the magma plume.

My photos of the Willow Creek Lava Field.

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

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.

3 Responses to Yellowstone hotspot's giant magma plume slowly eats its way northeast

  1. Salle says:

    It’s nice to finally see an image of this “hot spot”. I have been on many a geology field trip to the upper SRP and discussed it with geologists for years. It’s presence is the very reason this is one of the most geologically interesting and seismically active locations in the US. Interesting story although, contrary to the tone of the interview, the theory of the hot spot and its travels is not all that new.

  2. kt says:

    Hey Ralph,

    That is very interesting about the Hotspot. Hope I never fall down a really deep hole in SE Oregon!

  3. In 2006, I just accidentally happened to be in Canyon Village on a biker/hiker trip the day the education center there opened. That night, Bob Smith gave a lecture, and he presented a good bit of what’s being reported on now, including the image. At the time, though, he suggested the hotspot began over Dillon, MT – the change seems to be that he think it’s larger than that.

    It was very interesting.

    The thing that got me about the lecture, though, was that he seemed to be the luckiest guy in the world – not just having been able to research Yellowstone the greater part of his life, but for having seen a major eruption of Steamboat Geyser from the air (with pictures to show for it). And, to date, I had felt like the luckiest guy in the world – having also just happening on Steamboat Geyser during the last major eruption in May 2005 – going on a whim.


December 2009


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey