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According to this article, which has been circulating lately on Facebook:

At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, there is a mass animal exodus underway. Miles of buffalo can be seen running frantically from the Northwest end of the park. They are even running down roads. Elk are also evacuating at an astounding rate. Smaller animals such as rabbits and squirrels are also fleeing Yellowstone.

According to one expert, Thomas Lupshu, the only possible explanation is that the seismic activity in Yellowstone which has been increasing over the past month could mean that an eruption is on the way.

Is an imminent volcanic eruption the most plausible explanation for this reported animal mass-exodus from Yellowstone National Park?

To be clear, I'm not asking if an eruption is imminent, I'm asking if there are other, more plausible explanations than this so-called expert Thomas Lupshu would have us believe.

  • Note: the claim you've quoted is even stronger... Thomas is saying this is the only possible explanation. – user5582 Apr 10 '14 at 18:32
  • @Articuno: Yes, I realize that, but I'm sure he doesn't mean that literally. He's smart enough to know that someone could claim extra-terrestrial mind-control over the animals, but he considers such a claim--along with all others--to be so implausible as to be discounted entirely. So I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. :) – Flimzy Apr 10 '14 at 18:40
  • What I meant was that he's not allowing even for explanations like "it's just a coincidence", or that the phenomenon is not actually happening, or "animals just do this for reasons unrelated to earthquakes". His claim is that these are not possible explanations, not simply that they're less likely... regardless, I don't think this changes the answer that will come from this. Just wanted to point out that Thomas's claim is quite strong. – user5582 Apr 10 '14 at 18:47
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    Shouldn't we start with the question, "Are the animals fleeing Yellowstone National Park?"? – msmucker0527 Apr 10 '14 at 21:01
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    @msmucker0527: Fair enough. It is done. – Flimzy Apr 10 '14 at 21:26
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No, an "imminent" volcanic eruption is not a plausible explanation. But geological tremors are.

While Yellowstone geological activity is increasing, an eruption is not expected for a very long time.

The animal exodus could also just be migration - however, the video shows the animals running, not walking. Annual migration involves a lot of walking. Running is energy intensive and requires urgency.

From Snopes.com:

As Al Nash, chief of public affairs for Yellowstone, explained in a rumor control video on this subject: We do have bison, elk and other animals that have moved outside the park recently, but they're doing that because it's the depth of winter, food is a little hard to find in places inside Yellowstone, and they tend to migrate at this time of the winter outside the park to lower elevations where they think there might be something to eat that's easier to get at. When the snow melts off and things start to green up, those very same animals will walk right back into the park.

The animals may have been running in response to tremors; it's normal for animals to be much more sensitive to natural things. However, an increase in tremors doesn't necessarily mean an imminent eruption and Theres nothing about the evidence presented in the Yellowstone claim that shows why the Bison are running. Some parts of the scientific establishment claim that it has not been proven that animals can sense earthquakes before humans can, yet there is millenia of anecdotal evidence that animals can indeed do so, and acceptance of the idea in naturalist circles. National Geographic, for example, contrasts with points of view published in Scientific American.

Yellowstone, a bit like Hawaii, is on a hotspot. Hawaii is constantly active because the crust is so thin. In continental Yellowstone, the energy/pressure has to build up a lot before it blows through the crust - and then it will be an enormous release of energy. Previous eruptions have been quite regular, and thats the basis for predicting future eruptions.

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    "its normal for animals to be much more sensitive to natural things." Ah, I think you might like to rethink this claim; it is rather flawed. And as it is the only line that justifies your conclusion about geological tremors, you might like to change that too. – Oddthinking Apr 28 '14 at 20:37
  • The Snopes article has comments by geologists saying that they "don't know" when it will erupt. So it could be imminent, but there is no way to determine that with the evidence we have. – msmucker0527 Apr 29 '14 at 13:24
  • @msmucker0527 the wikipedia article on yellowstone shows information about the eruption history and path of the hotspot. Previous eruptions have been quite regular, and is the basis for predicting future eruptions. – 497362 Apr 29 '14 at 13:52
  • You've edited the question, but you haven't improved it. You need to qualify the aforementioned statement that animals (a category that includes clams, sponges and humans) are much more sensitive to natural things (a category that includes earth tremors, clams and homosexuality) than an unspecified referent group (that might include humans? scientists? seismographs? clams?). – Oddthinking Apr 30 '14 at 3:33
  • The conjecture that these bison are running from an undetectable physical phenomena only becomes a theory when the other, more prosaic, possibilities are eliminated. Is running normal behaviour for bison (claiming that it is energy inefficient isn't sufficient, as any puppy owner will attest)? Were they running from a specific threat? (A rifle shot?) "Millenia of anecdotal data" is a giant red flag here; it may be worth another whole question on just that. – Oddthinking Apr 30 '14 at 3:37

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