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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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
December 8, 2009

Inside USGS No. 1, Robert Christiansen, Yellowstone

USGS emeritus geologist Robert Christiansen describes his career working on Yellowstone geology from the 1960's through 2014. Bob's work along with his USGS colleagues revealed the details of Yellowstone's explosive volcanic past including mapping and dating of past super eruptions 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago.

Attribution: Yellowstone
Image: Old Faithful Erupting
May 30, 2008

Old Faithful Erupting

Photograph of the Old Faithful Geyser erupting in Yellowstone Nationl Park. Old Faithful was named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Yellowstone expedition and was the first geyser in the Park to be named.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
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

Image: Measuring a Superheated Fumarole
September 30, 1998

Measuring a Superheated Fumarole

USGS geochemist Bill Evans measures the temperature of a superheated (hotter than the boiling point) fumarole in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Image: Sampling a Fumarole
July 31, 1990

Sampling a Fumarole

USGS geochemist Cathy Janik (left) and Iceland Geosurvey chemist Jón Örn Bjarnason (right) collect a gas sample from a fumarole in Lassen Volcanic National Park.