Yellowstone

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If you walk this place, coated in mystery, you may find a spray of water going up, to your surprise, right next to you, or maybe off in the distance.

If you walk this place, coated in mystery, you may find a spray of water going up, to your surprise, right next to you, or maybe off in the distance. Perhaps a cloud of sulfuric steam will pass you, or mud will bubble up behind you. This is Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is known for its rather predictable geyser, Old Faithful. But it is only one of many geysers and other hydrothermal features throughout the park, generally all grouped in one of many areas. From Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces up north, to Norris Geyser Basin in the west, or nearby to that, Firehole Lake Drive, there are many mud pots, steam vents, geysers and hot springs.

Among the Terraces of Mammoth are Minerva, an entirely white terrace with water trickling down seasonally, and Canary Spring, with water falling a far way down before hitting the ground, as viewed from a lookout about halfway down. At Norris, features include Steamboat Geyser, the tallest geyser in the world, with frequent minor eruptions and highly irregular (4 days to 50 years) major eruptions as tall as 400 feet. On Firehole Lake Drive, Great Fountain geyser has eruptions up to 200 feet approximately every twelve hours for 45 minutes to an hour, and other small geysers, spouters, and steam vents penetrate the landscape. But why? Why should these things all happen in one specific area?

The volcano. The Yellowstone Supervolcano caldera, a 30-by-45 mile volcanic crater, sits amidst the middle of the park’s boundaries, and has been there since its last eruption, 640,000 years ago. The volcano, in its previous eruptions (640 thousand, 1.3 million, and 2.1 million years ago) spewed ash high into the air sometimes leaving ash as far as the Gulf of Mexico. Each year, the caldera rises 1 inch. Eventually, it will explode, leaving a new caldera, where cooled magma settles underground, heating water that eventually rises up to be a fumarole, a hot spring or even a geyser. But this volcano is not only responsible for geysers, it may also end life on Earth as we know it. If the volcano explodes, spewing ash and dust into the atmosphere, the Earth could plunge into years of “volcanic winter,” cooling the Earth by blocking heat from the sun, says the “Yellowstone” article in National Geographic. People could possibly die just from walking outside, as a combination of cool and toxic fumes and ash in the air. Evidence from DNA shows that all human life was narrowed down to very few after one of the Yellowstone explosions, according to the August 2009 issue of National Geographic. This raises many questions in the scientific community. When will Yellowstone explode? Even more, will Yellowstone explode? Will Yellowstone explode all at once, or in a series of small eruptions? But one thing is for sure: Yellowstone is a beauty to see, and will be once again if the volcano explodes, making a series of new geysers, fumaroles (steam vents), mud pots, hot springs, and perhaps something else. But we may never get to see it.

All information above was obtained from NPS brochures and exhibits, unless otherwise marked.

To read the Yellowstone article, go to:

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/08/yellowstone/achenbach-text