I recently went on a kick reading up on Yellowstone news and information that was triggered by the story of possibly using the Yellowstone supervolcano as an energy source. After reading from various sources, I discovered something mildly disturbing and rather annoying. Volcanoes are so cool (and Yellowstone is basically the biggest, so super cool), that I guess there is a real attraction for bad news outlets to put out bad content. I won’t link some articles I found but they had some truly BS headlines. It became so annoying that I had to write another blog post about it.
Some of these sources were less reputable news outlets. Some were British tabloid-ish websites/papers sometimes called rags. It’s difficult to know any better and consider the source when you don’t know the source. And most people don’t expect that they need to have their BS-meter running all the time.
Yellowstone supervolcano news is really cool, and it seems there is a ton of interest in that nowadays, not just me 🙂 That’s great. I pretty much read to learn anything new I can about it when something new comes out. It is absolutely one of the coolest places on earth, and on top of that it’s a geological force that could cause a giant catastrophe to the US and the world. Awesome.
That combination sure does invite a lot of BS though. Here are some headlines below.
“Is the Yellowstone SUPERVOLCANO about to blow? Fears a major eruption is on the way after scientists detect a spate of tremors in the area”
Well gee, I don’t know if it’s about to blow. I guess I need to click the link and provide my eyeballs for your ad dollars. The capital letters make it sound urgent. And despite the fact the title is a question, the capital letters make it sound like it’s true. By the way, who fears a major eruption? Oh, I see, one person on Twitter.
Reading the article, just about everything there refutes the headline, and is probably legit news. So that’s good. “But experts claim this is a relatively quiet period for tremors in the area. Normally, there are 50 minor earthquakes around the volcano every week.” “They say that concerns of an eruption in the area are unfounded, and the current resurgence in activity is nothing to be concerned about.” “He said: ‘Minor earthquakes occur in the Yellowstone area 50 or more times per week, but a major eruption is not expected in the foreseeable future.'”
“Yellowstone supervolcano is showing signs of STRAIN: Experts measure subtle changes caused by magma deep beneath the surface”
OH THE STRAAAAAAIN! Oh the HUGE MANATEE!
“Fresh fears Yellowstone Supervolcano to erupt after dormant geyser spews boiling water”
Hey that was Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world. Excellent. Yellowstone Supervolcano erupting? Nope?
“Has Yellowstone volcano STARTED erupting? Shock claims as ‘explosion’ spotted on live feed”
Wow, this one is impressive. Just stringing together “Yellowstone volcano”, “started erupting”, “explosion”, “shock”, and “live feed” deserves some sort of bad headline prize. Hah, even better, a video in the article has a title of “Unexplained object flies out of Yellowstone volcano.” Well considering this was in April, I’d say I’d probably know by now if it had “STARTED” erupting. The video didn’t really give me anything to go on. Oh yeah, and there is a second video there titled “Time traveller claims Yellowstone volcano is about to BLOW”. Lovely.
“Yellowstone ERUPTION fears after magma plume discovered underneath supervolcano”. Wait, then just lower down it has a second headline of “THERE are fresh fears the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt after a plume of volcanic ash was discovered underneath the volcano.” Why “THERE” is in all caps on that one is anybody’s guess.
Well which is it, magma or ash plume? Volcanic ash plumes are generally in the air, not underground. That’s because the ash isn’t actually created until a volcano erupts. A mantle plume is thought to be behind hotspots like Yellowstone. A magma plume sounds more general. All non-extinct volcanoes have magma chambers or plumes, except maybe mud volcanoes. Magma is why Yellowstone is the way it is. There is also ash everywhere basically. That’s because it has erupted several times in the past millions of years. “The data showed a “long, thin channel” where seismic waves under the Yellowstone caldera are slower, indicating the section is 600 to 800 degrees warmer than the areas surrounding it.” Ok. “And most shockingly, it is believed the plume could stretch as far as Mexico.” Now wait a minute, lol. It’s also nice of them to include 3 photos of erupting volcanoes, which of course weren’t Yellowstone. The article is thin on details.
I tried searching for other sources based on the only details there and learned there was some new evidence put out that favors a deep mantle plume being the cause of the Yellowstone hot spot (vs. an ancient subducted continental plate). Ok then, I did manage to learn something in spite of the first source.
“Yellowstone Volcano latest: 100-FOOT fissure sparks URGENT park closure”
What do you think when you read this headline? I don’t know about you, but I think the volcano has opened up and Yellowstone National Park has closed! Maybe lava or high-pressure ash will start erupting out any minute. It’s URGENT!
So what really happened? Someone discovered a large section of solid rock has separated from a cliff face. The NPS decided it threatened visitors and they closed a 20 acre portion of Grand Teton National Park. Here is the NPS closure warning.
That is a humongous difference. The headline sounds like a whole different level of urgent compared to actual events. Secondly, relating that fissure to the Yellowstone supervolcano is a stretch. I guess it could be since of course Yellowstone does account for a lot of the geological activity in the nearby area including earthquakes. But really rock breaks apart everywhere, even where there isn’t any volcanic or tectonic activity. It strikes me sort of like saying a particular butterfly in Australia caused a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Sure, that butterfly did play its role in global wind patterns…
This one was so egregious that Snopes even put out an article about the bad headlines. “For online sites looking for easy ad revenue, the topic of the Yellowstone super eruptions has been a gold mine — albeit it a factually challenged one. Any mention of Yellowstone can and will be turned into viral claims of the coming apocalypse.” –Snopes
Hey, here is another person annoyed by these crap headlines. The headline below was so bad that a volcanologist had to call out the lie.
“Yellowstone eruption IMMINENT: Supervolcano ‘anomaly’ triggers fears of volcano to blow”
They must have later updated the headline to read – “Yellowstone: experts confirm ‘anomaly’ – ‘no need for concern’ as volcano ‘on dying cycle'”. Ha. I can hear the editor’s voice now – “sorry, not sorry”. Big thanks go to the volcanologist, though it’s a bit sad that has to be done at all. I love that her Twitter tagline includes “and smiter of ludicrous volcanological rumors.”
And if you thought you were safe listening to your regular Joe Youtuber friend talk about his supervolcano thoughts, or even one of those well-polished newsy looking productions, think again 😐 I watched one that linked the recent eruption activity of Kilauea in Hawaii to recent earthquakes in Yellowstone. Come on! I guess some Youtubers also take the low road to more clicks.
By the way, if you want to learn more actually true information about the Yellowstone Supervolcano, you can also find some great facts, questions and answers here at a USGS web page.