Rumours of an imminent supervolcanic eruption have been greatly exaggerated.
A video posted to YouTube on March 20 showed a herd of bison running down a road in Yellowstone National Park, sparking fears among bloggers that the animals were fleeing seismic activity. Some speculated it could be connected to an eruption of a gargantuan volcano, Russian TV network RT reported.
The video was posted 10 days before the park was struck by a 4.8-magnitude earthquake, the biggest it had seen since 1980.
Park officials fielded dozens of calls since similar reports emerged of a possible eruption, but they're assuring people that the bison weren't fleeing an imminent disaster — they were just frisky, spokeswoman Amy Bartlett told Thomson Reuters.
"Contrary to online reports, it's a natural occurrence and not the end of the world," she said.
As it turns out, the bison in the video were actually running toward the volcano, park spokesman Dan Hottle told the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
The earthquake actually happened north of the boundary of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, whose mouth, or caldera, is 80 kilometres long and 50 kilometres wide. It happened in an area that's dominated by faults, not magmatic activity, Bob Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah, told the newspaper.
Scientists discovered last year that the volcano's molten rock is two and a half times larger than previously thought, meaning it has the potential to create an eruption that's 2,000 times larger than the 1980 event. National Geographic dubbed it a huge underground "magma pocket".
There are conflicting reports on how much damage an eruption might cause. Jamie Farrell, lead author of the study that uncovered the size of the supervolcano's molten rock, said an eruption would be a "global event" with a lot of destruction and impacts around the world.
But USGS geologist Jake Lowenstern told io9 a different story in May 2013.
He said that while supervolcanoes can have large eruptions, lava flows would likely be concentrated within the park, though airborne ash could create a fine dusting as far away as New York.
Lowenstern added that it's unlikely such an eruption will happen anytime soon, in part because the caldera has had several regular eruptions that release pressure.
"A more likely eruption is going to be a lava flow, a small event," he said.
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