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) and steam vents reported as high as 135°C (275°F). Only about 0.3% of the park's terrain is thermal ground, so most places are no hotter than anywhere else in the Rockies.

In some of Yellowstone's thermal areas, heat flow is over 100 watts per square meter, about 50 times that of Yellowstone's average and ~2000 times that of average North American terrain. This enormous heat flow is derived from the molten rock or magma in the crust beneath the caldera, which ultimately is generated by the Yellowstone Hot Spot, an anomalously hot region of the Earth's mantle hundreds of kilometers beneath the surface. 

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Why is Yellowstone called Yellowstone?

Contrary to popular belief, Yellowstone was not named for the abundant rhyolite lavas in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone that have been chemically altered by reactions with steam and hot water to create vivid yellow and pink colors. Instead, the name was attributed as early as 1805 to Native Americans who were referring to yellow sandstones along...

When was the last time Yellowstone erupted?

The most recent volcanic activity at Yellowstone consisted of rhyolitic lava flows that erupted approximately 70,000 years ago. The largest of these flows formed the Pitchstone Plateau in southwestern Yellowstone National Park. Learn more: Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

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 big is the magma chamber under Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is underlain by two magma bodies . The shallower one is composed of rhyolite (a high-silica rock type) and stretches from 5 km to about 17 km (3 to 10 mi) beneath the surface and is about 90 km (55 mi) long and about 40 km (25 mi) wide. The chamber is mostly solid, with only about 5-15% melt. The deeper reservoir is composed of basalt...

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 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...

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...

How hot is a Hawaiian volcano?

Very hot!! Here are some temperatures recorded at different times and locations: The eruption temperature of Kīlauea lava is about 1,170 degrees Celsius (2,140 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature of the lava in the tubes is about 1,250 degrees Celsius (2,200 degrees Fahrenheit). The tube system of episode 53 (Pu'u O'o eruption) carried lava for...
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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 water and steam shooting up out of the ground. Golden sky at sunset with backlit clouds.
December 31, 2017

Lion Geyser at Sunset

Lion Geyser erupting at sunset in Yellowstone National Park

river meandering through wide valley, with wisps of stem rising at various spots. Illuminated at sunset, with golden reflections
December 31, 2016

MIdway Geyser Basin at Sunset

Midway Geyser Basin at Sunset, Yellowstone National Park

July 18, 2016

Inside USGS, No. 6, Ken Pierce, Heavy Breathing of Yellowstone Caldera

Dr. Kenneth Pierce studied the geology and geomorphology of the greater Yellowstone area for nearly his entire career with the U.S. Geological Survey. From 1965 to present, Dr. Pierce has mapped glacial deposits, pioneered Quaternary dating techniques, conducted research on the Yellowstone Hot Spot, studied the geothermal areas, explored the geology of archaeological sites

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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

September 14, 2014

Inside USGS, No. 4, Robert B. Smith

Robert B. Smith of the University of Utah has been collaborating with USGS scientists on Yellowstone geologic topics since the 1960’s. In this interview Bob describes nuances of the Yellowstone volcano story. He shares details of his past and present work and explains how the University of Utah and USGS have a long history of working together on Yellowstone geology.

Attribution: Yellowstone
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: Eruption of Old Faithful Geyser
July 31, 2013

Eruption of Old Faithful Geyser

Visitors watching an eruption of Old Faithful Geyser from the Old Faithful Inn's balcony.

December 8, 2009

Inside USGS, No. 3, Robert Fournier, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist RobertFournier describes his career working on Yellowstone geysers and hydrothermal systems from the 1960's through 2014. Bob's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past and how its spectacular geysers and other hydrothermal features work.

Attribution: Yellowstone
December 8, 2009

Inside USGS, No. 2, Patrick Muffler, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist Patrick Muffler describes his career working on Yellowstone geysers and hydrothermal systems from the 1960's through 2014. Patrick's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past and how its spectacular geysers and other hydrothermal features work.

Attribution: Yellowstone