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 temperature of boiling at the surface. If it rises quickly, this superheated water can flash to steam, propelling both steam and hot water to the surface as a geyser. More commonly, hot water rises and loses its heat at a steady rate, flowing to the surface as a hot spring.

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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 Eruption History The evolution of the Yellowstone Plateau Volcani Field: Past, present, and...

How do scientists know what’s going on beneath the ground at Yellowstone? Is Yellowstone monitored for volcanic activity?

Yellowstone Volcano is monitored for signs of volcanic activity. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), is a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone National Park, the University of Utah, the University of Wyoming, UNAVCO, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, the Idaho Geological Survey, and the Wyoming State...

How much volcanic activity has there been at Yellowstone since the most recent giant eruption?

Since the most recent giant ( caldera-forming ) eruption 631,000 years ago, approximately 80 relatively nonexplosive eruptions have occurred. Of these eruptions, at least 27 were rhyolite lava flows in the caldera, 13 were rhyolite lava flows outside the caldera, and 40 were basalt vents outside the caldera. The most recent volcanic eruption at...

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...

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)...

How fast is the hotspot moving under Yellowstone?

Actually, the source of the hotspot is more or less stationary at depth within the Earth, and the North America plate moves southwest across it. The average rate of movement of the plate in the Yellowstone area for the last 16.5 million years has been about 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) per year. However, if shorter time intervals are analyzed, the...

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...
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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: October 5, 2015

EarthWord: Fumarole

Fumaroles are openings in the earth’s surface that emit steam and volcanic gases, such as sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. They can occur as holes, cracks, or fissures near active volcanoes or in areas where magma has risen into the earth’s crust without erupting. A fumarole can vent for centuries or quickly go extinct, depending on the longevity of its heat source.

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: 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: 18
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

Image: Collecting Gas Sample at a Fumarole
March 15, 2016

Collecting Gas Sample at a Fumarole

USGS geologist Deborah Bergfeld collects a gas sample from a superheated (hotter than the boiling point) fumarole in Little Hot Springs Valley at Lassen Volcanic 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).

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.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
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