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Windows into the EarthThe Geologic Story of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks$
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Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195105964

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195105964.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 13 June 2021

In the Wake of the Yellowstone Hotspot

In the Wake of the Yellowstone Hotspot

2 In the Wake of the Yellowstone Hotspot
Title Pages

Robert B. Smith

Lee J. Siegel

Oxford University Press

Anyone who drives through southern Idaho on Interstates 84 or 15 must endure hours and hundreds of miles of monotonous scenery: the vast, flat landscape of the Snake River Plain. In many areas, sagebrush and solidified basalt lava flows extend toward distant mountain ranges, while in other places, farmers have cultivated large expanses of volcanic soil to grow Idaho’s famous potatoes. Southern Idaho’s topography was not always so dull. Mountain ranges once ran through the region. Thanks to the Yellowstone hotspot, however, the pre-existing scenery was destroyed by several dozen of the largest kind of volcanic eruption on Earth—eruptions that formed gigantic craters, known as calderas, measuring a few tens of miles wide. Some 16.5 million years ago, the hotspot was beneath the area where Oregon, Nevada, and Idaho meet. It produced its first big caldera-forming eruptions there. As the North American plate of Earth’s surface drifted southwest over the hotspot, about 100 giant eruptions punched through the drifting plate, forming a chain of giant calderas stretching almost coo miles from the Oregon—Nevada—Idaho border, northeast across Idaho to Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming. Yellowstone has been perched atop the hotspot for the past 2 million years, and a 45-by-30-mile-wide caldera now forms the heart of the national park. After the ancient landscape of southern and eastern Idaho was obliterated by the eruptions, the swath of calderas in the hotspot’s wake formed the eastern two-thirds of the vast, 50-mile-wide valley now known as the Snake River Plain. The calderas eventually were buried by basalt lava flows and sediments from the Snake River and its tributaries, concealing the incredibly violent volcanic history of the Yellowstone hotspot. Yet we now know that the hotspot created much of the flat expanse of the Snake River Plain. Like a boat speeding through water and creating an arc-shaped wave in its wake, the hotspot also left in its wake a parabola-shaped pattern of high mountains and earthquake activity flanking both sides of the Snake River Plain.

Keywords:   Afar plume, Basalt lava, Canada, Dinosaurs, Ethiopia, Flathead sandstone, Galapagos Islands, Jurassic period, Kauai, Laramide Orogeny, Madison Range

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