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The Wonder Under Yellowstone
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The Wonder Under Yellowstone

Picture of Vincent Stokes
Updated: 9 February 2017
Yellowstone National Park is critically acclaimed for its natural beauty, dense wildlife and gorgeous scenery. However, what you don’t see is one of the world’s largest supervolcanoes underneath its surface. This caldera is what makes Old Faithful and so many other Yellowstone spectacles worth visiting.

Yellowstone National Park is truly amazing, especially with the view that is afforded by the Yellowstone National Park lodging. With so much to see, few may wonder how and where the park receives it beauty. Unknown to many, much of the wonders of Yellowstone come from what hides underneath the surface. Recently, scientists discovered that there is caldera lying underneath the park. Not sure what that means? It’s a volcano, a supervolcano measuring about 34 x 45 miles full of hot magma. The caldera has had more super-eruptions than scientists can track.

The three most impactful super-eruptions from the caldera include Huckleberry Ridge, Mesa Falls and Lava Creek. The most recent of these, though, was about 640,000 years ago. The odds of another large eruption like one of those happening today are about one in 700,000. However, this does not even begin to capture how catastrophic a supervolcano could be in this day and age. The last eruption is calculated to have thrown pyroclastic flows (or dense and lethal fogs that contain gas, ash, and rocks that have been superheated to around 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit) up to about 10,000 feet. The flows towered over the landscape as they dispersed. The eruption sent more than 8,000 times the amount of debris into the air than Mount St. Helen’s.

The interesting part about the string of eruptions is that the tectonic plate above the actual volcano is moving in a southwestern direction. This has left ghost like calderas around the globe — in places like southern Idaho, Oregon and the Snake River Plain. These calderas have provided some beautiful places to visit and see the result of nature in force. They also create stunning views like that of the Yellowstone Caldera as it sits above the Yellowstone River that flows through Hayden Valley.

Part of why Yellowstone National Park holds such beautiful scenery upstairs is because of the eruptions from the supervolcano years ago. The soil in the area is so poor in nutrients that the plants need to adapt to that kind of soil. The lodgepole and white bark pines are both good examples of what grows in the Yellowstone Caldera soil — they are used to the nutrient-poor soils. The adaptation of the surrounding nature has been beneficial not only for the views but also because they continue to sustain the wildlife. The white bark pines continue to sustain grizzly bears and black bears with their nuts. Without the effects of the caldera and the adaptation of the plants, there was the possibility that the bears would not have survived.

The caldera also helped form the Snake River Plain. The hotspot that the Yellowstone Plateau lies over created the plain through a series of huge volcanic eruptions. The hotspot under the plateau had a series of violent eruptions that created the eastern part of the Snake River Plain.


By Vincent Stokes