CLAIM: Yellowstone National Park officials have “closed down the park” due to a rising “volcanic uplift.”
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The national park is open, though many roads are currently closed to automobiles for the winter. Experts say the ground at Yellowstone regularly rises and subsides but this has been trending downward in recent years. There are no concerns of an impending volcanic eruption.
THE FACTS: A video circulating on Facebook is using alarming imagery of fiery disasters to falsely suggest Yellowstone has shuttered over impending volcanic activity.
“Yellowstone Officials Just Closed Down The Park & Said The Volcanic Uplift Is Rising,” reads text overlaid on the 22-minute video. The video was also uploaded on YouTube in late October.
“Reports have it that it may take another 100,000 years for the Yellowstone volcano to erupt again but the recent rise in the volcanic uplift doesn’t seem to agree with this timing,” a narrator claims. “Yellowstone officials have noticed this uplift rising and are closing down the park.”
But the park is not closed and experts say the video gets the facts wrong.
“The park is open for the winter season and has not been closed since the flood event in June,” Linda Veress, a spokesperson for Yellowstone, told The Associated Press in an email, referring to devastating flooding during the summer.
The National Park Service website notes that most roads at the park are currently closed to automobiles but open to oversnow vehicles, as is routine during the winter.
That doesn’t mean the park is closed or that it’s experiencing dangerous “uplift,” which refers to the rising of the ground.
“This idea of volcanic uplift in Yellowstone is complete hogwash,” Michael Poland, scientist-in-charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, said in an interview. He said Yellowstone has actually experienced a trend of subsidence, or deflation, since 2015.
Uplift occurs at volcanoes when magma accumulates beneath the surface, Poland said, but it can also be the result of things like water or gas accumulation. For example, Yellowstone can experience a minor uplift when the ground absorbs runoff from melting snow — like a dry sponge absorbing water and growing.
Kari Cooper, a professor and chair of the University of California, Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, likewise said in an email that such ground deformation can be caused by a number of factors.
“The ground surface at Yellowstone is moving all the time, sometimes up and sometimes down, and it would not be cause for concern unless it was outside the normal patterns,” she said.
Poland said “only if we saw a really dramatic uplift” — say, the ground rising feet in weeks or months — “would it be something that we thought might be a hazardous change.”
“We’re not particularly worried about any sort of volcanic eruption in the Yellowstone system right now,” Poland said, adding that the magma is largely stagnant.
Also, Poland noted, Yellowstone has more commonly experienced not massive explosions but “lava flows,” which last occurred about 70,000 years ago. He described such lava flows as a thick rock wall emerging to the surface.
The Facebook video uses visuals unrelated to volcanic activity at Yellowstone, including theatrical imagery and AP footage of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte discussing the June flooding.
Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 and comprises 2.2 million acres, largely in Wyoming but extending into Idaho and Montana as well.
Poland said false claims about the park are disappointing given its natural wonder.
“You don’t have to make stuff up about Yellowstone to make it even more fantastic,” he said. “It’s one of the most fantastic places on Earth.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.