Gotta love the Brits and their cousins

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 06:35:33 09/01/17

In Reply to: Uh Oh posted by 46er


This story broke with news outlets in the U.K., and now has found fertile ground in Australia and New Zealand. The New York Post seems to be the only news outlet of note in the U.S. to carry the story. Guess who owns the Post?

Ever since some British news organization heard about that little surge in hydrothermal activity that produced some venting north of Norris, back in the mid-2000's, the U.K. media has been fascinated with dark forecasts of a "Yellowstone Armageddon". The BBC has cranked out several documentaries on the subject. Their intense focus on the topic eventually had a sizeable impact on our federal government. Given what I have seen on and near the ground in Yellowstone over the last 10-12 years, this Brian Wilcox story does not surprise me. We saw the creation of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory, which initially, was merely putting a fancy name on something that already existed. I remember a conversation with Hank Heasler, former Yellowstone National Park Geologist, about 8-10 years ago, when we encountered him testing his expensive new toy at Mammoth one morning. It was an infrared video camera, and he said it cost as much as a fully-loaded SUV. He told us that in a time of chronic fiscal austerity, he could get funding for virtually anything tied to predicting or preventing a catastrophic caldera event. Lisa Morgan's report on the bottom mapping of Yellowstone Lake that told of the "inflated plain" just fed into the BBC's frenzied fascination with this subject. It fanned the fire, and the next thing we knew, here came new BBC products exploiting the sensational potential in that discovery.

I do not doubt Brian Wilcox's story one bit. I can easily imagine the federal government having instructed NASA to study the dangerous potential in the Yellowstone caldera, and ways to mitigate it, including funding the effort. There is likely an interesting back story about why this study has either been under wraps or simply ignored by the American press. I find myself wondering whether Brian Wilcox is still working for JPL, and whether there is any plausible motivation for him to have gone public with this story; or is it a case of some British media outlet having simply blown something out of proportion. As a taxpayer, I have no problem with the thought of a group of NASA subject matter experts doing some brainstorming on possible ways of heading off a caldera-instigated disaster. I hope we have DHS experts doing something similar regarding potential terrorist threats, and ways of heading them off, before they materialize.

The big question is whether the hypothetical discussion/planning was the scientific equivalent of a group of people gathered in a bar arguing over which NFL teams are going to make the playoffs versus the generation of a slick and glossy report that actually proposes implementation of the plan. The fact that a $3.5 billion price tag was calculated is cause for anxiety.


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