USGS Warns Yellowstone’s Earthquake Monitoring GPS Stations Are Destroyed
WYOMING — October 16, 2018
YELLOWSTONE Volcano Observatory (YVO) has warned that GPS ground deformation trackers near active Yellowstone fault lines have been obliterated by lightning strikes.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed that none of its instruments at Sawtell Peak station P361 are transmitting data.
GPS station P361 is a crucial element in the USGS’ network of trackers near active Yellowstone volcano faults. It was just repaired in September of this year.
The instruments at P361 are located at an “important site” about 18.64 miles west of the Yellowstone National Park border in Idaho.
Geologists at the USGS use a network of GPS stations around the supervolcano to measure the ground for signs of ground deformation. The stations pick up warning signs of Yellowstone earthquakes and the immense volcanic pressures that cause them.
Station P361 is of particular importance to the USGS because it relays data to additional GPS arrays nearby. The USGS believes the station lost its GPS and communication antennas in an intense electrical storm.
Most of the sensitive equipment at the station will have to be replaced high up on its communications tower.
The agency said: “About 30 kilometers west of the Yellowstone National Park boundary, in Idaho, UNAVCO field engineer Tom Lyman surveys the damage at GPS station P361 on Sawtell Peak.
“This is an important site, not only because it is located close to active faults in the Yellowstone region, but also because it serves as a data relay for four additional nearby GPS stations.
“None of the GPS equipment is transmitting data.”
Other stations in the area are believed to have also been affected by lightning strikes.
The USGS said parts of the boreal geophysics station near the world-famous Norris Geyser Basin, dubbed B205, suffered permanent damage.
Unlike GPS stations, which are positioned high above the ground, borehole stations are drilled deep down into the ground, as deep as 770ft.
At the B205 station, the USGS said only one out of its three sensitive tiltmeter instruments was replaceable.
In Yellowstone National Park alone there are 14 GPS minoring stations and six borehole geophysics stations. Maintaining these stations is a constant fight against the elements, power failures and “other ailments.”
The USGS said: “Every year, several GPS stations in the 1,100-station Plate Boundary Observatory, of which the network at Yellowstone is a part, are damaged by lightning.
“Locations that are good for GPS stations have clear sky view.
“High points are especially attractive, as they allow for easier data transfer – so it’s no surprise that these stations are also in danger of being struck.”
Maintaining the USGS stations falls under the responsibility of UNAVCO – a non-profit university-governed consortium located in Boulder, Colorado.
Nothing unusual or scary here, but there are three important points to stress:
First, it's a very weird coincidence that the most important communication nodes that collect data from the park sensors were damaged in a single moment, when Yellowstone is about to ready for a thermal explosion. Vertical deformation in the park was already very significant, and then in one instant everything was reset.
Secondly, this news appeared at Express.co.uk, but it was removed immediately after publication… weird.
Third, and most surprising, what does a large communication tower that was hit by lightning have to do with GPS stations? The GPS station works with satellites, as I understand, or were the satellites also struck by lightning?
Whatever has happened with GPS and Express.co.uk, the loss of Yellowstone’s nodal seismic stations is anything but an ordinary event, and we are keeping an eye on the developments. It looks like a global failure of seismic recorders is on the way.