We have always feared Yellowstone's next big eruption. But a new study shows the super volcano might actually be getting weaker. Still, that does not mean it is no danger at all.

The journal Geology has examined eruptions from the past 9 million years, including it's most cataclysmic event."The new discoveries suggest the intensity of the hotspot is waning drastically," said the authors.

“It therefore seems that the Yellowstone hotspot has experienced a three-fold decrease in its capacity to produce super-eruption events,” said the study's lead author, Thomas Knott. “This is a very significant decline.”

To understand what happened in the past they studied eruptions in Idaho and Nevada. They examined the characteristics of rock color and age as well as chemical composition.

Their findings show that the first "super-eruption," was around 9 million years ago. It is referred to as the McMullen Creek super-eruption. That eruption affected 4,600-square-miles of what we now call Idaho.

The second super-eruption is called Grey’s Landing super-eruption. That one was much larger and impacted nearly 8,900 square-miles. That event was 8.72 million years ago.

“It is one of the top five eruptions of all time," Knott explained.

According to LiveScience, what we now call Yellowstone has erupted around 10 times over the past 16 million years. An event happens roughly every 500,000 years.

But the two biggest eruptions were 1.5 million years apart. The suggests a decline, the researchers say.

"This approach should lead to more discoveries and size estimates," the researchers wrote. "It has increased the number of known super-eruptions from the Yellowstone hotspot, shows that the temporal framework of the magmatic province needs revision, and suggests that the hotspot may be waning."

The most recent eruption was 630,000 years ago. Mr. Knott thinks "we may have up to 900,000 years before another eruption of this scale occurs,” before acknowledging this is not exact and continuous monitoring of the region "is a must."

But another study, published in 2017, suggested Yellowstone could erupt more often.

Does this mean more but weaker eruptions? Time will tell, the research continues.

Montana Talks logo
Enter your number to get our free mobile app

NEXT UP: 10 Absolute WORST Tourist Incidents at Yellowstone National Park

More From Montana Talks