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An Explosive History

Exploring our region’s volcanic past

Published online: Jun 10, 2024 History
Viewed 418 time(s)

By Emily FitzPatrick, Jeff Carr, Museum of Idaho

We live in a sea of volcanoes. Craters of the Moon, Hell’s Half Acre, Black Butte Crater, and Wapi Flow all encompass much of East Idaho. Lava rock envelops the landscape of some of our most prominent history, reminding us of past eruptions.

Washington Irving described the fields as an uneventful sight. "… nothing meets the eye but a desolate and awful waste … and where nothing is to be seen but lava."

Lava fields can appear desolate upon first glance, but anyone who has visited Craters of the Moon knows that digging a little deeper reveals a slew of fascinating domes, lava tubes, and more. One day hiking the mounds of black rock isn’t enough to absorb the natural maze.

East Idaho’s geology is truly one of a kind, for the same reason Yellowstone National Park is one of a kind: for most of the last 12 million years, Yellowstone was entirely in Idaho. The hot pots and geysers that dot America’s oldest national park today were formed by something called the Yellowstone hotspot – an extra warm area just under the Earth’s crust. As tectonic plates shift slowly over time, hotspots stay in the same place. So as our continent drifted toward its present location, the Yellowstone hotspot formed major portions of the Eastern Snake River Plain. In fact, the hotspot was right under present-day Idaho Falls about 7 million years ago. As a result, engineers in the city today have to test for leftover lava rock in the soil – and sometimes blast it out with explosives – when digging foundations for new buildings. Check out the interactive display about the hotspot at the Museum of Idaho.

Myth vs. Fact: Idaho Volcano Edition

In elementary school, you probably learned all about Yellowstone National Park and the National Park Service. In fact, you were probably even taught some lore that has been proven false over the years. Below we debunk some common myths:

Myth: The supervolcano could explode at any moment, wiping Idaho off the planet.

Fact: Will the Yellowstone Caldera erupt during our lifetime? Scientists have proven this scenario to be unlikely, although activity could happen in the next thousand years. Scientists from Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho collaborate to consistently monitor volcanic and seismic activity. You can view their data on the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory website.

Myth: Volcanic activity around the world has increased.

Fact: Recent volcanic activity in Hawaii and Iceland has led many to assume volcanic activity is rising, but we are simply more aware of these eruptions. The number of active volcanoes around the world continues to remain at about eight to twelve.


For More Information

Museum of Idaho

208-522-1400

www.museumofidaho.org

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