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Uplift, thermal unrest and magma intrusion at Yellowstone caldera


The Yellowstone caldera, in the western United States, formed 640,000 years ago when an explosive eruption ejected 1,000 km3 of material1. It is the youngest of a series of large calderas that formed during sequential cataclysmic eruptions that began 16 million years ago in eastern Oregon and northern Nevada. The Yellowstone caldera was largely buried by rhyolite lava flows during eruptions that occurred from 150,000 to 70,000 years ago1. Since the last eruption, Yellowstone has remained restless, with high seismicity, continuing uplift/subsidence episodes with movements of 70 cm historically2 to several metres since the Pleistocene epoch3, and intense hydrothermal activity. Here we present observations of a new mode of surface deformation in Yellowstone, based on radar interferometry observations from the European Space Agency ERS-2 satellite. We infer that the observed pattern of uplift and subsidence results from variations in the movement of molten basalt into and out of the Yellowstone volcanic system.

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Figure 1: A map of structural, thermal and volcanic features in and around Yellowstone caldera.
Figure 2: Four interferograms showing the deformation during the episode of uplift at NUA.
Figure 3: Observed and modelled uplift at NUA and subsidence of the caldera floor.
Figure 4: Dilatation calculated from the inflating sill in Fig. 3. (Calculations were performed using Coulomb 2.5; ref.


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We thank R. Christiansen, S. Hurlwitz, J. Lowenstern, S. Ingebritsen, J. Savage and G. Waite for discussions, reviews and comments. European Space Agency (ESA) ERS-2 data were acquired through an ESA ENVISAT AO and through the WInSAR consortium (supported by NASA, NSF and the USGS). Help from K. Wendt and F. Boler with the GPS data is greatly appreciated. Collection of the GPS data, archived at UNAVCO, was funded by an NSF grant to R. Smith (Univ. of Utah).

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Correspondence to Charles W. Wicks.

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Supplementary Notes

This file shows the result of including the University of Utan GPS data (ref. 6) in a joint inversion with the InSAR data and a discussion of the small-scale uplift-like features in the Norris–Mammoth corridor (Fig. 2C). This file also contains Supplementary Figures 1–4. (PDF 2462 kb)

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Wicks, C., Thatcher, W., Dzurisin, D. et al. Uplift, thermal unrest and magma intrusion at Yellowstone caldera. Nature 440, 72–75 (2006).

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