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Geology

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Volcanism in the Yellowstone region has generated a lot of ash over the last several million years. Rivers, including the ancestral Missouri River, have played an important role in distributing this ash across the landscape of southwestern Montana.

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The ground surface at Yellowstone National Park goes up and down. Since 2015 the caldera has been going down at a rate of about 2–3 centimeters — about 1 inch — per year, but during 2004 –2010 the caldera uplifted at a similar rate. What causes these ups and downs? Well, it’s complicated.

Floating down the Yellowstone River recently, it was very noticeable the water was low because there were rocky banks as big as a football field. In higher flows, like during spring runoff when snow in the mountains is melting, these rocks were underwater.

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When it comes to data, Yellowstone National Park is a geophysicist’s dream. There is continuous activity from earthquakes, geysers, and of course, the volcano itself. A keen eye may be able to spot one of the park’s numerous GPS or seismometer stations hard at work, but some of the park’s data collectors are buried deep within the Earth, hidden from sight in boreholes.

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