Yellowstone Earthquakes: How Big are They and Why Hundreds are Happening

Written by August Buck
Published: August 1, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Bartfett
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You likely know that Yellowstone National Park has a number of natural features to see, but what do you know about Yellowstone earthquakes? This unique natural area and ecosystem is one of the most seismically active places in the entire United States. But why is this the case, and how concerned should you be about quakes in Yellowstone National Park? 

In this article, we will go over the earthquakes that occur regularly in Yellowstone, including how big they are and why they are happening. Whether you are planning a trip to visit this beautiful National Park or simply have an invested interest in the unique activity that occurs in Yellowstone, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started and talk all about Yellowstone earthquakes now! 

Why are Hundreds of Earthquakes Happening in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone Earthquakes
The average Yellowstone earthquake is under a magnitude 4, and most of these earthquakes are even smaller than that.

iStock.com/SergeYatunin

Hundreds of earthquakes happen in Yellowstone National Park due to its volcanic origins and the movement of magma beneath the earth’s surface. Volcanic fluid moves along fault lines and cracks in the Earth, and this movement happens constantly. With so much disturbance underneath the surface, earthquakes are inevitable, though we don’t feel each and every single quake that happens in Yellowstone National Park. 

There is so much seismic and volcanic activity happening all of the time in Yellowstone. In fact, hundreds of earthquakes happen in Yellowstone annually, but the chances of you feeling one of these while on your trip to this beautiful National Park is extremely rare. Yellowstone Park Rangers monitor the earthquakes and volcanic activity in Yellowstone each and every day, using advanced technology. They use this technology to graph the subsurface activity happening within Yellowstone to further understand why earthquakes happen in the first place! 

How Big are the Earthquakes in Yellowstone?

Yellowstone Earthquakes
There is so much seismic and volcanic activity happening all of the time in Yellowstone.

iStock.com/Bartfett

The majority of the earthquakes in Yellowstone National Park are not very big. They range in magnitude, from less than 1 to just shy of a magnitude 8 earthquake. However, these larger quakes are extremely rare, with the latest occurring in 1983. The average Yellowstone earthquake is under a magnitude 4, and most of these earthquakes are even smaller than that. The fact that most people cannot feel so many earthquakes happening all of the time means that they aren’t very large after all! 

The latest quake that visitors and residents of nearby towns could feel happened in May of 2022. This earthquake was a 4.5 magnitude quake– still relatively small by earthquake standards, but enough for multiple people to notice a bit of a shake up! This quake may not have been caused by volcanic movement, ironically, but the majority of quakes within Yellowstone National Park are.

How Many Earthquakes Occur in Yellowstone National Park?

Yellowstone Earthquakes
Rather than one large earthquake, Yellowstone experiences multiple miniuscule ones, based entirely on the hydrothermal activity bubbling just beneath the surface.

iStock.com/ChrisB

Yellowstone National Park experiences anywhere from 500 to over 3,000 earthquakes in a given year, though it entirely depends on what is happening beneath the surface. This behavior is obviously unpredictable, but closely monitored. Yellowstone experiences so many earthquakes in a year, but even these thousands of earthquakes are not evenly distributed throughout the entire 12 month calendar year.

For example, July 2022 experienced roughly 50 earthquakes in Yellowstone National Park, but the prior July of 2021 experienced just over 1,000 earthquakes! As you can no doubt guess, these earthquakes are unpredictable and occur whenever they like. But why do so many earthquakes occur at once in Yellowstone National Park? 

The primary reason for this strange clustering of earthquakes is the fact that the volcanic material found beneath the earth’s surface is constantly shifting all at once. This leads to a chain reaction and a unique swarming quality to these quakes. Rather than one large earthquake, Yellowstone experiences multiple minuscule ones, based entirely on the hydrothermal activity bubbling just beneath the surface.

What Do Earthquakes Mean for Visiting Yellowstone?

Yellowstone Earthquakes
The volcanic and seismic activity found in this region create Yellowstone geysers, hot springs, and more.

Colton Stiffler/Shutterstock.com

The earthquakes that occur in Yellowstone National Park should not affect your visit in any way. As we’ve already stated, most of these earthquakes are not felt by humans, no matter how close they might be to the epicenter. The magnitude of these quakes are so subtle, but Yellowstone Park Rangers are always monitoring seismic activity through countless locations and meters.

However, it’s interesting to note just how much volcanic activity happens beneath the surface of Yellowstone. Given the fact that this unique park and landscape was formed by three separate super volcano explosions millions of years ago, it only makes sense that there remains a decent amount of volcanic activity! 

This isn’t a reason to postpone your visit to Yellowstone National Park. Far from it, as the volcanic and seismic activity found in this region create Yellowstone geysers, hot springs, and more. While it may sound scary to consider the fact that these earthquakes could cause a volcanic eruption, the chances of this happening are so rare and slim. So, lace up your hiking boots, bring your camera, and enjoy your visit to Yellowstone National Park. You may just feel an earthquake!

best waterfalls in yellowstone

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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