Fearmongering and Speculation at Newberry Caldera and the Salton Buttes

Rocky Planet iconRocky Planet
By Erik Klemetti
Oct 29, 2012 9:20 PMNov 20, 2019 2:47 AM


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A shot across Newberry Caldera, with the Big Obsidian Flow (right) and Paulina (left) and East (right) Lakes. Image: Lyn Topinka/USGS Most of the eastern U.S. is focussed on the oncoming storm - Sandy. Here in Ohio, we're definitely getting wet, windy and cold weather. We even have snow in the forecast for this evening! So, if you're on the eastern board from Virginia to New England - be careful. You can find lots of useful information on the Google Crisis Map for Sandy. A couple pieces of news over the weekend and today really got my attention (in the wrong way), so I thought I'd try to dispel some bad journalism: Oregon In the realm of ridiculously, I ran across an article that asked if the M7.7 earthquake felt off of British Columbia this weekend was caused by the drilling and fracturing at Newberry Caldera in Oregon. Yes, I know people are concerned about the connection between fracking and earthquakes. However, why don't we take a step back for a moment and realize that Newberry is over 1,200 kilometers from the Queen Charlotte Islands epicenter. Earthquakes related to fracking tend to occur at/near the site where waste water is being pumped back into the ground and usually in the M1-5 (at maximum) range. Trying to connect the Queen Charlotte Islands earthquake and Newberry is like trying to connect the earthquake with Hurricane Sandy. I realize that there is a strong anti-fracking movement out there with some real concerns about what effects the techniques might have on local seismicity - and these are legitimate. However, making connections to every earthquake within 1,500 kilometers of a fracking site and the process is foolish. California Speaking of crazy talk, the Examiner (which is highly questionable as a news source - they posted an "article" about a UFO descending into Popocatepetl) had a post on if an eruption is imminent at the Salton Sea. This article is making the extremely tenuous connection between a new journal article about the rhyolite domes in the Salton Sea area. Axel Schmitt and others found that the domes are younger than previously thought - likely they formed within the last 3,000 years or so. However, the Examiner post makes the jump from this new data to the foul odor at the Salton Sea noticed during the summer - aha, it must be volcanic! Sure, volcanoes can produce copious sulfur odors, but (a) it doesn't mean they are anywhere close to eruption and (b) we have no evidence that the smell at the Salton Sea was volcanic in origin. The Salton Buttes are, indeed, still potentially active volcanoes - and even more so now that we know the most recent eruptions are likely to been in the last few thousand years rather than over 25,000 years ago. However, the ages of the zircon from Salton Buttes dated by Schmitt and others tells us nothing about the current state of the magmatic system - whether it is "close" to an eruption or not. Wild speculation otherwise is just more fearmongering.

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