Can we use the heat from Yellowstone for energy?

Geothermal energy (heat energy from the Earth's interior), is used to generate electricity in a variety of places throughout the world. Although Yellowstone National Park and its surroundings are a significant geothermal resource, the Park itself is off limits to development. Geothermal developments often cause a decrease in the flow of nearby hot springs and other geothermal features (like geysers), so it is questionable whether anyone could get permission to develop geothermal energy in the region outside the park.

There are other natural heat sources in the United States that are being used for geothermal energy. In California, about 4-5 gigawatts of electricity is generated at power plants at The Geysers, Salton Sea, Coso, Casa Diablo, and other geothermal systems. This is enough to provide energy for several million people. There are also geothermal power plants in Nevada and Utah. A geothermal power plant in Hawaii was closed in 2018 due to lava flows from Kilauea volcano.

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How can an earthquake affect groundwater or changes in wells?

Groundwater levels in wells may oscillate up and down while seismic waves pass, and in some cases, the water level may remain higher or lower for a period of time after the seismic wavetrain has ended.

What type of eruption will Yellowstone have if it erupts again?

The most likely explosive event to occur at Yellowstone is actually a hydrothermal explosion —a rock-hurling geyser eruption—or a lava flow . Hydrothermal explosions are very small; they occur in Yellowstone National Park every few years and form a crater a few meters across. Every few thousand years, a hydrothermal explosion will form a crater as...

How hot is Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is a plateau high in the Rocky Mountains, and is snowbound for over six months per year. The mean annual temperature is 2.2°C (36°F), barely above the freezing point of water. However, Yellowstone is also an active geothermal area with hot springs emerging at ~92°C (~198°F) (the boiling point of water at Yellowstone's mean altitude)...

Can we drill into Yellowstone to stop it from erupting?

In some cases, limited scientific drilling for research can help us understand magmatic and hydrothermal (hot water) systems; however, drilling to mitigate a volcanic threat is a much different subject with unknown consequences, high costs, and severe environmental impacts. In addition to the enormous expense and technological difficulties in...

What is the relationship between volcanism and the geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone?

Heat and volcanic gases from slowly cooling magma rise and warm the dense salty water that occupies fractured rocks above the Yellowstone magma chamber. That brine, in turn, transfers its heat to overlying fresh groundwater, which is recharged by rainfall and snowmelt from the surface. Water boiling at depth below the surface is hotter than the...

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is water that exists underground in saturated zones beneath the land surface. The upper surface of the saturated zone is called the water table. Contrary to popular belief, groundwater does not form underground rivers. It fills the pores and fractures in underground materials such as sand, gravel, and other rock, much the same way that...
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Date published: January 13, 2020

The complicated plumbing of hot springs and steam vents in Yellowstone National Park

Exploration and sampling of Yellowstone's thermal areas indicates that Yellowstone's hot springs often have surprisingly complex plumbing systems. It is not uncommon to find hot spring pools, which have one type of chemistry, and steam vents, which have totally different chemistry, located in close proximity—or even occupying the same space! Learn what happens when these mix or overlap.

Date published: May 10, 2017

The Complex Dynamics of Geyser Eruptions

Despite two centuries of scientific study, basic questions persist about geysers—why do they exist? What determines their behavior?

Date published: April 11, 2014

Science Report Guides Protection of Old Faithful Thermal Features and Historic Yellowstone Buildings

A newly published scientific report on the geology and hydrology in the area around Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park includes suggestions on how to avoid harming the unique hydrothermal (hot water) features during maintenance of nearby park roads, utilities, and historic buildings.

Date published: September 30, 2010

Scientists Take Temperature of Yellowstone Hot Springs

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. -- A new sensor network installed in Yellowstone National Park this summer will provide scientists and the public near “real-time” data on what’s happening in one of the nation’s most active geyser basins.

Date published: May 30, 2008

What Makes an Old Geyser Faithful?

New research suggests that how often Old Faithful and other Yellowstone geysers erupt may depend on annual rainfall patterns.

Filter Total Items: 13
boiling water and white steam blasting up out of erupting geyser with snow on the ground
December 31, 2017

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser erupts on a clear winter day in Yellowstone National Park

column of white water and steam shooting up out of the ground. blue skies.
July 31, 2015

Great Fountain Geyser, Yellowstone

Great Fountain Geyser erupting in Yellowstone National Park on a clear day.

steam rising from a geyser on a quiet river bank
January 31, 2015

Riverside Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

Riverside Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

erupting geyser with rainbow in midground. tall trees in background
November 30, 2014

Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

eruption of Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

January 22, 2014

The Yellowstone Volcano: Past, Present and Future

Public Lecture on Yellowstone Volcano by Jake Lowenstern at Menlo Park, CA on January 23, 2014. The Q&A at the end of the talk can be found on the original source video (Source URL).

Image: Geothermal Plant
November 24, 2009

Geothermal Plant

A geothermal power plant at The Geysers near Santa Rosa, California. The USGS researches and assesses geothermal resources.

Attribution: Energy and Minerals
August 27, 2009

PubTalk 8/2009 — The Future of Geothermal Energy

a discussion of present opportunities and future challenges

by Colin F. Williams, USGS Geophysicist 

  • A new USGS assessment of our Nation.s geothermal resources identifies favorable areas for energy development
  • Can geothermal energy help satisfy the growing need for .clean. energy sources?
  • Seven western states
video thumbnail: Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)
January 29, 2009

Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers
the following questions to explain volcanic features at Yellowstone: "How do we know Yellowstone is a
volcano?", "What is a Supervolcano?", "What is a Caldera?","Why are there geysers at Yellowstone?",
and "What are the other geologic hazards in Yellowstone?"


Attribution: Yellowstone
Scenery: Valley surrounded by forested mountains. Multiple wisps of steam rise from the valley floor at various locations.
June 30, 2006

Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Aerial view of Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park