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Eerie Doomsday Connection Between Oregon Coast and Yellowstone

Published 03/08/22 at 4:42 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Eerie Doomsday Connection Between Oregon Coast and Yellowstone

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(Oregon Coast) – Long, long before humans walked the Earth, the area that would eventually become Oregon was periodically covered in layers of moving lava. A weak spot in the crust, located about where the Idaho border is now, allowed multiple eruptions through which wriggled their way across three hundred miles, past what was the ocean boundary back then (the coastline was some 30 miles inland) and down into ocean sediment. (Above: Yachats at night. Thanks to odd light sources, the basalt and ocean take on a reddish color, evoking lava. The coastline looked something like this 14 million years ago)

This was Oregon and its future coast about 13 to 18 million years ago, and to borrow from Battlestar Galactica: “all this has happened before and all this will happen again.” Those layers of lava, sometimes 30 feet high, created much of the north Oregon coast we know and love: Tillamook Head, Cape Meares, Yaquina Head and even the Columbia Gorge. Hence the name “Columbia Basalts” given to these structures.

That weak spot is still around – but thanks to tectonic movement has shifted to where Yellowstone National Park is. The plates move over the spot – the hole stays where it is. The “Yellowstone hotspot,” as it's known, has erupted numerous times over 100 million years, often with extinction-level events. It's a super volcano, according to geologists, and it's itching to shoot off again someday.

Wyoming geophysicist Bob Smith wrote in his book “Windows into the Earth” that the initial blast has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people instantly. The resulting gas and dust cloud from such an eruption would likely ruin the food chain on the entire planet.

These super volcanoes from the Yellowstone Hotspot have occurred about every 800,000 years, according to Smith and other geologists. The last one was 640,000 years ago.

To say that science as a whole is keeping an eye on this one is an understatement. Bundles of sensitive equipment keeps a constant vigil on how the bulge is growing – and it is. Although it's thankfully doing so slowly.

According to Oregon coast geologists like Al Niem and Tom Horning, that Yellowstone Hotspot affected the future Oregon even before the Columbia Basalts.

The Tillamook Hills are an example: that section of the Oregon Coast Range is about 43 million years old, and it's believed the hotspot created those. Many of the mountains were once volcanoes fueled by the hotspot.

Fast forward to about 35 million years ago and underwater volcanoes ran amok around the Yachats area. Cape Perpetua was one, in fact. Scientists believe it's a good possibility the Yellowstone Hotspot fired up those volcanoes, but they are not certain.

How the Oregon coast formed is insanely complex, and parts of its geologic clues are literally buried or are eroded away. Horning has told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the past that much of the central Oregon coast isn't quite as clear as the northern third.

The southern half of the Oregon coast was not affected by the Columbia Basalts and is even more complex, with many parts of it created at various points throughout 50 to 200 million years ago, and chunks of it accredited on from somewhere else (meaning parts of other formations were attached over time).

There, even different rock formations just 50 feet from each other can have an entirely different origin, such as the various sea stacks at Bandon.

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