Recent crustal subsidence at Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming

Bulletin of Volcanology

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DOI: 10.1007/BF00304098



Following a period of net uplift at an average rate of 15??1 mm/year from 1923 to 1984, the east-central floor of Yellowstone Caldera stopped rising during 1984-1985 and then subsided 25??7 mm during 1985-1986 and an additional 35??7 mm during 1986-1987. The average horizontal strain rates in the northeast part of the caldera for the period from 1984 to 1987 were: {Mathematical expression}1 = 0.10 ?? 0.09 ??strain/year oriented N33?? E??9?? and {Mathematical expression}2 = 0.20 ?? 0.09 ??strain/year oriented N57?? W??9?? (extension reckoned positive). A best-fit elastic model of the 1985-1987 vertical and horizontal displacements in the eastern part of the caldera suggests deflation of a horizontal tabular body located 10??5 km beneath Le Hardys Rapids, i.e., within a deep hydrothermal system or within an underlying body of partly molten rhyolite. Two end-member models each explain most aspects of historical unrest at Yellowstone, including the recent reversal from uplift to subsidence. Both involve crystallization of an amount of rhyolitic magma that is compatible with the thermal energy requirements of Yellowstone's vigorous hydrothermal system. In the first model, injection of basalt near the base of the rhyolitic system is the primary cause of uplift. Higher in the magmatic system, rhyolite crystallizes and releases all of its magmatic volatiles into the shallow hydrothermal system. Uplift stops and subsidence starts whenever the supply rate of basalt is less than the subsidence rate produced by crystallization of rhyolite and associated fluid loss. In the second model, uplift is caused primarily by pressurization of the deep hydrothermal system by magmatic gas and brine that are released during crystallization of rhyolite and them trapped at lithostatic pressure beneath an impermeable self-sealed zone. Subsidence occurs during episodic hydrofracturing and injection of pore fluid from the deep lithostatic-pressure zone into a shallow hydrostatic-pressure zone. Heat input from basaltic intrusions is required to maintain Yellowstone's silicic magmatic system and shallow hydrothermal system over time scales longer than about 105 years, but for the historical time period crystallization of rhyolite can account for most aspects of unrest at Yellowstone, including seismicity, uplift, subsidence, and hydrothermal activity. ?? 1990 Springer-Verlag.

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Recent crustal subsidence at Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming
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