Hunters near the Yellowstone Supervolcano in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains stumbled upon a huge crack in the earth that measured 700 yards long and 50 yards wide this week.
The find was recorded by Randy Becker and shared via Facebook by SNS Outfitters (an antelope hunting guide service) – and the magnificent pictures soon went viral.
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“While hunting this past weekend in the Bighorns, we came across an awesome example of how our earth is not as stable as you might think. Awesome forces at work here to move this much dirt!!” Becker wrote on Facebook.
What kind of forces could create such a big split though? The online commentary ranged from speculation of fracking, geological movements like earthquakes and sinkholes, and even a collapse into subterranean caves. Of course, the crack’s relative proximity to the Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano roughly 150 miles away, also played a part in the speculation.
SNS Outfitters offered a different explanation.
“An engineer from Riverton, WY came out to shed a little light on this giant crack in the earth,” the outfitters wrote on its Facebook. “Apparently, a wet spring lubricated across a cap rock. Then, a small spring on either side caused the bottom to slide out. He estimated 15 to 20 million yards of movement.”
Some had their doubts that a tiny spring could cause such a big crack, and geologists have yet to determine for sure what created Wyoming’s newest and smallest little canyon. Seth Wittke, Wyoming Geological Survey’s manager of groundwater and geologic hazards and mapping, told the Powell Tribune that there are many reasons why the fissure could have formed.
“A number of things trigger them, moisture in the subsurface which causes weakness in soil or geology, and any process that would weaken the bedrock or unstabilize it somehow,” he said.
One theory from the Geological Survey is that crack was caused by a slump. A slump happens when a mass of rock and other materials slide off a slope, much like an ice shelf calving. A team from the agency intends to travel to the crack for a more detailed analysis, and is currently speaking with the property owner to gain access. For now, experts are warning people not to approach the crack as it can be potentially unstable.