Get Out There

Melting Roads in Yellowstone Are Not a Sign of the Apocalypse

There are some phrases you never expect to write. “Yellowstone National Park’s roads melting isn’t a sign of the apocalypse” is one of those phrases. However, since 2014, a recurring rumor has made the rounds that roads melting are precursors to an apocalyptic event.

In July 2014, a major road in Yellowstone had to be closed when the asphalt softened, and oil raised to the top. Heat in the air and the ground had melted the road. This was far from unprecedented. It happens around the world. And it occurs in that area of Yellowstone as it’s warm there, especially as it’s close to the geothermal features like Old Faithful. As Yellowstone is a hotbed for volcanic activity, people thought it heralded an eruption.

The park repaired the road with sand and lime and reopened it in less than a week. Dan Hottle, a Yellowstone spokesman, said, “We see this kind of thing quite a bit.”

Concern about the supervolcano under Yellowstone isn’t silly. It is a serious threat. But it isn’t likely to erupt for thousands of years.

Such a giant eruption would have regional effects such as falling ash and short-term (years to decades) changes to global climate,” U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wrote on its website. “Those parts of the surrounding states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming that are closest to Yellowstone would be affected by pyroclastic flows, while other places in the United States would be impacted by falling ash.”

It’s not foolish to think that an eruption would be cataclysmic. But it’s not on the horizon. The roads in that area are laid on ground that can be close to boiling at their surface. The road surface can become like putty when summer temperatures are added in.

Additionally, in 2014 there was a 4.8-magnitude earthquake. It was the biggest quake in the area since 1975. A video of bison running went viral at the same time. People claimed the bison could sense doom and were running from the volcano. In reality, the bison were just running for the fun of running and weren’t fleeing the park but running into it, and it wasn’t shot at the same time as the earthquake.

The engineering staff at Yellowstone has been updating the roads since 2014, trying to stop the melting problem. They have added insulating foam to protect the road surface. They stressed that the melting roads are inconvenient, not dangerous.

Do roads sometimes ‘melt’ in Yellowstone National Park? The phrasing is a bit melodramatic, but indeed, roads can be impacted by the thermal ground they traverse,” USGS wrote. “This is nothing new, nor a sign of imminent volcanic activity. Still pretty amazing. Just not worrisome from a volcanic point of view.”

While the national parks may have faced some significant setbacks in the last year, you can cross impending volcanic eruption off your list of worries!

Banner image: Ciel via Unsplash

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