Active Volcano Discovered Under the Great Smoky Mountains

Photo of an erupting volcano embedded in a scenic photo of the Great Smoky Mountains.
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A year-long geologic study conducted by the National Park Service has determined that there is an active volcano in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The NPS shared its findings in a press release this morning. We have summarized the report below.

Official tweet about the discovery of an active volcano in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
How the Volcano was Discovered

Scientists from the National Park Service began considering the possibility that a volcano could exist in the region after an earthquake hit the Smoky Mountains in February 2015. Although the 2.1 magnitude earthquake was a minor tremor, it raised red flags among geologists. Earthquakes in the Smoky Mountains are exceedingly rare, with only three quakes on record within the national park boundaries.

While the first earthquake occurred in 1979, the earthquakes in 2011 and 2015 were only a few years apart. Unusual earthquake patterns can indicate the presence of volcanic activity, so the National Park Service assembled a team of researchers to investigate.A map of earthquakes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 1970.

To search for a possible volcano, scientists installed a number of seismometer stations around the park and used planes with airborne radar to scan the mountains. After a year of gathering data, the geologists uncovered a vast magma chamber beneath Mount LeConte. In the National Park Service press release, lead researcher Dr. Andrew Johnson admits that the discovery was truly shocking:

“I was dumbfounded. Of course, we knew this was a possibility; that’s why we were doing all of this research in the first place. But to find a massive reservoir full of magma right under our noses…It just boggles the mind.”

At 6,593 ft tall, Mount LeConte is the highest peak in the state of Tennessee, but it is relatively short by volcano standards. However, there are a number of volcanoes of comparable size, including Mount Fentale in Ethiopia, Bardarbunga in Iceland, and Khangar in Russia.

Threat Level

As mentioned above, Mount LeConte is an active volcano. Since its discovery is so recent, scientists are still working to determine what risk the volcano poses to the area. The United States Geological Survey uses a color coded volcano alert-level system to characterize the likelihood of eruptive activity:

Color coded volcano alert-level system.

Although there is not complete consensus, most geological experts who have been consulted believe that Mount LeConte is best classified as Green. Nevertheless, the volcano is being closely monitored for any change in activity. When asked about the chances of an eruption, Dr. Johnson had this to say:

“To be frank, Mount LeConte is a ticking time bomb. The volcano is going to erupt eventually; it’s just a matter of when. It could go off next week, five years from now, or even 300 years from now. The only thing we can do is remain vigilant and take the necessary precautions.”

Impact of a Potential Eruption  

Just as the timeframe for Mount LeConte’s eruption remains unknown, the severity of a potential eruption is also contested. There is a good chance that an eruption from Mount LeConte would be relatively minor. The similarly sized volcano Bardarbunga in Iceland erupted from August 2014 – February 2015, which resulted in some air pollution but little lasting damage.

However, the size of a volcano is not always a reliable indicator of its eruptive impact. For instance, Mount Vesuvius was only 4,203 ft tall. Despite being nearly 2,400 feet shorter than Mount LeConte, this famous volcano unleashed a torrent of molten rock, fumes, and ash that released more thermal energy than a nuclear bomb and completely decimated Pompeii in 79 AD.

Map detailing the blast radius for the Mount LeConte volcano in the Smoky Mountains.

If Mount LeConte were to erupt, its blast radius would encompass Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and much of Sevierville. There is growing scientific evidence that LeConte had its most recent burst of activity 12,000 years ago. In light of the recent findings, a legend referring to a “Great Fire Mountain” that exists in the Cherokee oral tradition is being given renewed attention.

New Safety Precautions 

The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the country’s major tourist destinations, so it is vital for the local economy that the newly discovered volcano does not disrupt everyday life. In order to ensure the safety of vacationers and locals alike, the National Park Service has suggested the implementation of the following procedures in the cities surrounding Mount LeConte:

  • All National Park Visitor Centers will give out free masks for travelers to keep in their cars in case the air quality is diminished by high quantities of ash.
  • Before every dinner show or any other type of performance in the area, there will be 20 minutes of standardized volcano safety instruction. Topics covered will include how to identify the smell of sulfur, what to do if you see lava, and the best places to hide in case of an eruption.
  • The Gatlinburg Space Needle will be outfitted with a series of megaphones that will announce the color coded volcano alert-level each morning. In the event of a Code Red, the entire tower will light up with red LED lights and emergency flares will shoot from the tower.   
  • Clothing stores and sports outfitters will be encouraged to stock a complete selection of heavy coats, hats, and gloves throughout the year in case an eruption from Mount LeConte blocks out the sun, causing volcanic winter.

For more information about the volcano, don’t check back here. This entire story has been an April Fools’ Day joke! There aren’t any volcanoes in the Great Smoky Mountains (that we know of), so you can breathe easy if you love to vacation in the area. To learn real facts about the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page.

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78 thoughts on “Active Volcano Discovered Under the Great Smoky Mountains

    • Emily Wolff says:

      We are so glad you liked it! Thank you for reading! Be sure to share it with your friends!

  1. Dave Algonquin says:

    First they said it was active, then they said it was dormant, so it didn’t make any sense anyway. Might fool some people though.

  2. QwertyMcGibblets says:

    It’s about time. I’ve been saying this for years and no on believed me. Everyone would just chuckle and say old man McGibblets is crazy. Now who is getting the last laugh. I told you people all that smoke that made them mountains so dang smoky was come from a volcano and if we didn’t start to appease the mole people by throwing them sacrificial goats as an offering of peace then that whole volcano is going to erupt. Mole people aren’t evil and satanic, so they don’t have be virgin goats… any old goat will do. Start now before it’s too late.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      If only we had heeded your warnings, Mr. McGibblets…I’ll start talking to the local goat herders.

      • QwertyMcGibblets says:

        you are a wise one. I can only hope the offerings of our finest regional goats will appease the mole people and they will spare us from utter devastation of lava crusted Tanger outlets and ski resorts of Appalachian pumice

      • QwertyMcGibblets says:

        This is true. We will need someone to round up the goats and toss them into the volcano. Can’t trust the conservatives do it because it’s borderline paganism… but who are we kidding, they will still be too busy trying to re-ban gay marriage and declare that the volcano is god’s way of cleansing the area of those evil homosexuals. Can I get an amen? AMEN!

    • JJ Webb says:

      About half way through, I was thinking “That must have something to do with why the hot springs in Hotsprings NC are so hot!”. The best April Fools gag yet!

  3. Marz M says:

    Thank heaven the polar bears (and the gray bears) will be safe from the volcanic eruption, because they’ll be “lurking under the water.”

    Good job-thanks for the day brightener on April Fool’s.

  4. Mary Tullila says:

    This young man is not funny. How dare you “think” that this should even be toyed with, suggested, or joked about. Shame on you court jester….
    In a world full of deceptions, trickery and smoke and mirrors…
    Your joke is a insensitive display of Foolishness.

    • Jason Fishman says:

      I apologize if you feel like we deceived you, Mary. We print the truth 364 days a year. April Fools’ Day is the only exception.

      • Janis Keith says:

        Lol, people get over it, what is foolishness is that some people cant take a good joke. Pretty good Jason. Please send out a friend request to me, i dont want to miss your next one, ha. And yes i live at the foot of the Smokies, my Mother and her and sisters and brothers and my grandparents were run out of the Cades Cove to make it a National Park, so as an old country girl i can appreciate a good joke!

    • imakymama says:

      Oh, for heaven’s sake, lighten up! I’ll bet you’re no fun at all to be around….

  5. Lakelady says:

    Since I have experienced window glass “dancing
    a jig”, the ground shaking, along with a deep, gutteral sonic boom, I didn’t particularly care for this April Fool’s joke

    Last year, you wrote another article about the government releasing polar bears in the Smokies. Many people who have been
    dealing with the aftermath of decades of “federal” wild game releases were just a little irritated. A black panther crosses my driveway from time to time, and that’s NO joke!

    And we still are dealing with the large, temperamental European wild boar, brought in almost a decade ago to attract wealthy hunters to the area. When I kayak across the lake to visit my Great Great Grandmother’s grave, I have to keep an eye out for them. There’s always evidence of them rooting around the graves and at times you can hear them thrashing around in the woods.

    I enjoy a good joke like everyone else. But can we please joke around about something else!?

  6. Tammi Smith says:

    Whew! I was hoping it was an April Fools joke. lol,,,I was going to stay out of the caverns. lol

  7. Phil Tune says:

    Oh my goodness. I just need to not read things today. At least not things my wife sends me. Really had me going. I thought the list of precautions were a little like, “Man! Federal agencies just go a little crazy with their precautions.” I started sharing this article with others before I read the whole thing. Good thing I didn’t send this out to my entire department (like I was about to).

  8. Jimmy Locke says:

    You got me! Being a native North Carolinian and liking that area to camp in I was drawn into it. Good job! Thanks to this prank I’ve discovered a new website about my beloved Smokies. Thank you!

    • Jason Fishman says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Jimmy! We hope you enjoy the rest of the website!

  9. Chris Shirah says:

    This was really good, had me going all the way til the end. Keep this kind of stuff coming, brings a needed smile after all the sad stuff we face in reality.

  10. Megan King says:

    You got me thanks for the laugh at the end. I was so worried about my favorite place to visit. good job guys.

  11. Aaron Bird says:

    The whole point of april fools is to post on the first of april. You posted on March 31st.
    Way to screw that up slick.

    • imakymama says:

      I scrolled back to the top of the page to see the date shortly after I began reading it! lol

  12. Kristy Blanton says:

    After last years Polar Bear blog. I didn’t believe it for a min. I knew the April Fools would drop at some point in the article. lol… But I did read the whole things, very entertaining.

  13. Monica Anderson says:

    Awesome story! I’m loving the maps and the amount of research you put into this!!

  14. PapaBearChuck says:

    Ok Mr. Smarty Pants. You had me hooked right up until the dinner theater safety warnings. Ha, ha, ha, cancel my subscription.

    Hmmmm….I may keep the first half of your article….maybe I could convince someone that the property values on their vacation cabin was dropping because they are closest to the blast zone. Yea, That’s the ticket!

  15. Joshua Jacob Grillot says:

    This wouldn’t have changed anything in My mind. Would still go every chance i get.

  16. Doug Manuel says:

    This was funny but there is Hot Springs just over the state line in N.C. What does everybody think causes a natural hot springs to be hot ?

  17. Paul Chenoweth says:

    Yep. Hook. Line. AND Sinker. You got me. You had me wondering about all the treks up the mountain over the years. Now, truthfully, I did witness an eruption one year with a group of campers…but that was more about bad tuna sandwiches than magma 🙂

  18. Lakelady says:

    What, no replies to the 2 negative comments who are relegated to the bottom of the comments page???

  19. MagmaMonster says:

    Will there be a direct tunnel created for virgin sacrifices? How are you planning on importing the virgins for volcano appeasing? It sounds like a lot of follow-up into the REAL issues are needed.

  20. Doon1 says:

    I rent a house in the smokies each summer. My wife and I; along with several of our friends spend 2 weeks in the Sevierville area. We probably add about 5 to 6 thousand dollars to the local economy during our stay. Not this year. I have just canceled my reservation and will find somewhere else to spend my money. Nice job Jason but the joke is on you. BTW Grow up…

  21. Lori Greenhill Sharpe says:

    Absolutely loved it! Figured it out when I got to the part about “volcanic winter”… Laughed myself silly, them read it to my husband, who shared it without reading it! 😀

  22. Debbie Lewellen says:

    When you travel down Hwy 321 from Greeneville to Newport and you can see the mountains of Newport/part of English Mt. there is a small mountain in front that is bowled out like the top of a mountain is blown off like a volcano that blew it’s top eons ago, I’m not a geologist by any means but I can observe nature and see that it is definitely there is a blown mountain top in cocke county.

  23. lostwonderingsoul says:

    at age 9. i told my class i know there a volcano in the smokey mts. i got laughed at and called retarded because the was not one there.55 mins a chick said i am a dumbass and retarded because i told her that. she looked on http://www.scientificamerican.com and said i suffer from Mythomania. ( that site dont have anything on this subject. and why dont they i dont know) but hey i may not know how to write very well but i know my science and love the subject. so two months in a mental ward over this subject alone. i think it was worth it because in the end here my proof.

  24. Patsy Lay Darracott says:

    Your attempt at humor failed. This world is too busy with real disasters and turmoil for needless attempts to frighten the populace. Very immature!

  25. Gary Canant says:

    Our creator said, “LIGHT BE” and that is exactly what happened.
    We are created in HIS image. That means, LIKE THE CREATOR! WE GET WHAT WE SAY!.
    Jason Fishman, obviously don’t know his creator! Nor the power of WORDS.
    If there were no volcano under Mt Leconte, THERE IS NOW! !

Comments are closed.