Inside USGS, No. 3, Robert Fournier, Yellowstone

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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.


Date Taken:

Length: 00:30:00

Location Taken: Menlo Park, CA, US


Interviewer: Tell me about your early work

Robert Fournier: I came to work for the Geological
Survey in 1958, working with George W. Morey

who was one of the icons of early experimental
work on water-rock interactions at high pressures

and high temperatures.

Where did you attend college and what did
you study?

Ah, graduate school, I went to Berkeley.

I did a thesis on porphyry copper deposits
How did you wind up working at Yellowstone?

Uhm, in 1957, Julian Hendley and I were both
graduate students at Berkeley and we were

driving from there to Butte, Montana to look
at the copper deposits there and we stopped

in Yellowstone on the way.

And I fell in love with Yellowstone and hydrothermal
system immediately.

In fact I remember very distinctly talking
to Julian and saying, I couldn't think of

a better job than to be paid to come and actually
study the hot spring deposits here in Yellowstone.

And I was very interested in looking at what
the silica might be in a higher temperature

system of Yellowstone.

And Don had also done some work in Yellowstone
so we talked a bit and he very graciously

volunteered to take me and a few of my associates
in Washington to Yellowstone to show us around

and to get started.

My intent was to bring a photometer to Yellowstone
that actually measure the chemical speciation

of silica in the water just as they came out
of the springs.

And this was very important for giving the
information about how silica might behave


And so it was silica that got me to Yellowstone
and I had working with me Jack Rowe, a chemist.

So I had chemical facilities available.

And we decided, well we didn't want to do
just silica -- let's collect waters and measure

everything we could and in the way of major,
major elements in the waters, which we did.

So that got me to Yellowstone in 1960.

What was the focus of your work there?

Well, there were a lot of questions we had.

We wanted to know where the waters came from,
whether there's a magnetic contribution to

the waters and gases or not.

We wanted to know how much water was coming
up and above all, we wanted to know what the

temperatures were of the source areas for
specific Geyser basins and hot springs and

geysers in those basins.

So the silica turned out to be the first pathway
to this, which was through the silica solubility

work I came up with what's called the silica
geothermometer, which later had a lot of application


So then we started in looking at other types
of geothermometers involving alkaline minerals

and then mixing models involving mixing of
high temperature waters and low temperature

waters to estimate underground temperatures.

And when the growing, possibility for drilling
came up, this was a golden opportunity to

verify some of our estimates of what the underground
temperatures really were and to see if indeed

at depth quartz was determining the amount
of silica in solution, which had been the

direction we would take.

But we felt that yes, quartz should be and
it turned out it was.

To what degree was that work contributing
to the larger understanding of Yellowstone


We had a lot of information when we started
working there about chemical compositions

going all the way back to the first paper
published in 1888 about the USGS looking at

the compositions in Yellowstone.

There was a major study done in the 1920s
by Allen and Day.

They tried to sample each one of the springs
that they could get to in the park and so

when I came on I wanted to know whether the
water compositions were changing in time from

year to year or even from season to season
in the park.

And so, I also through the silica work, had
published the solubility of quartz and I was

very interested in then applying this as a
chemical geothermometer.

About then, I attended a meeting in 1965 in
New Zealand and when I got there I found that

New Zealanders had taken my published solubility
work and were using it to estimate the changes

in temperature of the Wairakei Field.

At that time, in order to monitor how temperatures
are changing with production, they had to

shut down a well, go through and send a temperature
measuring device down, get it out, and this

was costing money because they weren't giving
the production.

And it would take a month or two to do the
whole field.

And then they found that they could use my
calibrated quartz geothermometer and in one

day collect sample from other wells and within
two degrees Celsius determine the underground

temperatures of the field.

So uhm, I was very, this was for down whole

I was dealing with hot springs and so I really
wanted to find out how much change in silica

concentration there was in the waters coming
up from depth to the spring waters.

And the drilling was a marvelous way of getting
at what was going on because the drilling

allowed me to collect underground temperatures.

I was also very much interested in looking
at basin to basin and see how hot water compositions

in those basins related to one another.

And so I was very much trying to find if there
were any unifying factors, and by that time,

we, I and my associates began to have a pretty
good idea, particularly Alfred Truesdell,

who was working with me, of what the temperatures
were in the individual basins and we were

expanding on this work.

So we were still groping around for a major
unifying model.

And when drilling started we didn't have that
model yet, but we were on the way.

Did your drilling work overlap with Bob Christensen’s
mapping work?

When I first starting working in the park,
we knew that it was a volcano.

We didn't have that much more information
except from Joe Boyd’s thesis.

And so about then Chris started working there
and we had a lot of very close contact with

Chris and others because during a part of
this work, we actually shared field camps,

in which we shared eating facilities and that
sort of thing.

And we, --- I was really interested in the
volcanic aspect even though it wasn't --- volcanoes

weren't my thing.

Because I knew that the porphyry coppers were
sub-volcanic and Yellowstone was giving me

a bridge between my thesis and what was going
on in Yellowstone.

So I was really interested in talking to Chris
a lot.

I went on an expedition with Chris to the
Mirror Plateau so I had a couple of weeks

with Chris doing fieldwork with horses and
great communication.

By then I'd moved out here.

And so we've walked down the hall and talked
to each other.

Tell us about unusual spring activity in the

I had worked for parts of two -- of either
spring or fall seasons in the park starting

1960, '61, '62.

In 1962, this was three years after the Hebgen
Lake earthquake.

One of the major springs in the park, Beryl
Spring, had stopped overflowing.

It was right in the canyon that's the road
goes through from the southern part of the

park to Mammoth, the northern part of the
park, the only way to get through except going

out of the way by many, many, many, many miles.

The Bureau of Public Roads was supposed to
come in at that time and strip away all of

the previously laid down roadbed that went
past that spring.

Their geologist had determined that the reason
that this spring had stopped overflowing was

that a crack had formed after the earthquake.

And as a result the water was flowing out
from under the road, and which was --- they

had hot spring water coming out from under
the road.

And they, --- the superintendent of the park
at that time, Mr. Garrison, really liked that


He wanted the spring put back to the point
where it would overflow again.

So he also wanted all the road materials stripped
away from by the spring, and they were going

to put a, --- did put a bridge over that area
where the water could then flow from the spring

underneath this bridge rather than over the

I was called in.

--- They went to the Geological Survey and
called me in as the expert -- because I was

the only person who had any experience at
that time in the park --- to be their safety

engineer and also to tell them when they stripped
away all of the fill material to get back

down to the original slope.

I came in and I assessed the situation and
I determined that they were having a new spring

right under the road.

I did this in various ways.

I had a thermistor with me and I did a, I
got a little spike and I pounded some holes

into the ground and I had a temperature survey
determine that the temperatures did not fall

off from the spring to that new one, from
Beryl Spring to the new one, but that they

had a new spring.

I also took an old bit of rock salt like a
cowlick and broke it up and put it into Beryl

Spring and then with a conductivity measure
determine how long it took the water to get

from Beryl Spring out to this new discharge
and found that it took something like an hour.

So I knew they were connected, but the connection
was deep.

The Bureau of Public Roads also wanted to
dig a 10-foot deep trench between the spring

and the road -- and fill it with impervious
material, which was going to be montmorillonite

clay and therefore stop up the leak --- where
I knew that this would absolutely destroy

the silica scinter that was coming out there,
and if they did that they were to get nothing

but new springs and possibly destroy all possibility
of even repairing a road or putting in a new


In fact it might take the road out forever.

So the park service wasn't on, for some reason,
too good terms with the Bureau of Public Roads

at that time.

And so I was with the Park Service, the Bureau
of Public Roads was on the other side, and

so when we actually got around to digging
up the old road, lo and behold there was a

new spring.

Furthermore, when we did this we found that
there were at least three or four different

roads had been put in, one layer upon the

Each road was repaired at that same spot where
a new spring had come up.

And each repair job was by putting in more
cement, and each time new spring would work

up its way around the cement and eventually
come out again.

So I, ---- the engineers were going to do
the same thing with this new spring.

They were going to dump it full of cement.

One of the problems was that they had prefabricated
the bridge and one of the bridge abutments

was going to be where the new spring was and
they could only move the bridge a few feet

one way or the other.

So they were going to have this bridge abutment
on this cement fill that plugged, ---- that

hadn't worked in the past.

So I said, no we're not going to do that and
furthermore we're not going to dig that trench,

which was another major problem.

So I designed a cement vault that would raise
the level of the water inside the vault to

the point where its water level would be higher
than that of the spring, reasoning that the

new spring would then come out Barrel Spring,
the shortest way instead of there.

And we then kept it open so that the pressure
wouldn't build up in that vault and we vented

the steam to one side and I guaranteed that
it would work for at least 10 years, and so

now they're finally getting around to doing
something about it.

The vault is going to be left but the bridge
is going to be replaced.

Furthermore, we got them to not dig the trench
but the contract called for the contractor

to, ah, dig all this clay out of a pit over

Yellowstone Canyon and truck it, which was
going to be a very expensive operation to

fill in this trench.

So they still insisted on trucking in all
of this clay materials and spreading it around,

which I couldn't get them to stop and it turned
out to be just exactly the wrong to do because

I think it has led to a lot of demise in the
timbers that they put in place because it

allowed conditions to go acid sulfate there.

Anyway, as a result of this, the --- John
Good, the chief naturalist and the superintendent

were fairly high on the USGS, and they felt
that we knew what we were doing and that we

could handle hydrothermal situations.

And this quite possibly could have smoothed
the way when we came back to them and said

we would like to do some drilling to really
understand what's going on underground.

So at that time, the personnel, in positions
of authority in the park were very favorably

disposed to the USGS.

They at that time could essentially do whatever
they wanted and even though there was some

internal decent within the park service about
whether we should do the drilling or not.

What the superintendent said was law and we
did it.

How was the drilling plan developed?

This evolved because in anything like this
you want to learn from your past experience.

We had an idea of the kinds of environments
that we wanted to look at.

We had made some decisions about the particular

We had to stay away from old faithful and
any of the major features in the park but

other than that we were given pretty much
free reign.

We wanted to do our drilling where we could
be seen by the public only in the wintertime

or at least in the fall or early spring.

During the summer, except for one well, we
tried to stay out of the public sight.

The one well where we were in real public
sight was the Y-5 drill hole, which was right

next to pocket basin, which was a hydrothermal
explosion area.

But then we would drill a well, see what we
were getting and then decided the next one.

And so we were pretty much making up our specific
drill sites as we went along.

In some cases, the Park Service gave us better
drill sites than we dared ask for because

our sites would have required cutting down
three or four trees and the park service would

rather have us closer to some of the drill
or some of the hot springs and not cut down

on these trees.

What was learned from the drilling work?

One of the things I was really interested
in was getting down hole pressures.

At that time, we didn't have electronic equipment
to do pressures and so I came at it from an

experimentalist, in which I had been using
flexible stainless steel tubing to get my

pressures to my vessels in the uhm, furnaces
and so on.

So I thought I could measure down hole pressures
by putting a tube to the bottom of the well

and measuring a gas pressure against the --- what
was down there.

This was really effective.

So we got real temperature measurements.

We got good down hole pressure measurements,
and down hole pressure measurements were the

key to understanding what was going for the
geysers and that sort of thing.

We got down hole waters and gas samples so
that we got real information about what was

going on down there.

Another thing is that Pat and co-workers,
Alfred and Don had just figured out that these

hydrothermal explosions, massive hydrothermal
explosions were taking place there and that

they were controlled by increase in pressure
of this water.

I was interested in knowing what happened
to the underground pressures and temperatures

during glaciation.

So the drill core provided access to fluid
inclusions so I had Keith Barger put on to

my project for a while, part time to look
at the fluid inclusions in the core and we

determined that the inclusions showed major
increases in temperatures at various depths.

Some temperatures were as much as 280 degrees
Celsius in the past where present temperatures

were only 160 degrees Celsius.

This showed that the weight of the glacial
ice created a higher underground water pressure

and that underground temperatures were able
to increase accordingly much, much, much higher.

And so actually during the glacial period,
at the place called Porcupine Hills in Lower

Geyser basin, waters were flowing out at the
then ground surface underneath the ice at

temperatures as high as 160-180 degrees Celsius
compared to 92 degrees now.

So toward the end of the Ice Age, there was
a lot of excess thermal energy stored in the

rocks, which could then be converted to energy
to these hydrothermal explosions.

To what degree was drilling the way to get
geologic information?

Well of course it was, it gave us core.

And what the core gave us was not only geologic
information stratigraphy, how deep the glacial

fill was.

What the different types of rocks were.

It also gave us history.

Because we could look at the veins and see
crosscutting relationships of veins.

We could look at the nature of the alteration
around the veins, whether it remained the

same or not.

We could look at the minerals and the fluid

So we got history of what had gone on since
the materials are deposited -- that we were

looking at.

Was it exciting to work in Yellowstone?

Oh, it's absolutely exciting and fun, yes.


I'm accused of never having worked a day in
my life.

Ah, the, and as we did this we were learning
things about it.

The questions that we had at the start -- with
--- we were answering and the other really

exciting thing was that what we were doing
did have application elsewhere.

Uhm, at the time I was working in Yellowstone,
this wasn't my only job, I was doing experimental

work first in Washington and then here and
at the same time I was greatly involved with

developing methods to do exploration for geothermal
energy resources elsewhere and also ways of

helping produce geothermal resources so that
they knew what was going on.

So I was going back and forth from what I
could learn from drilling in geothermal systems

around the world to Yellowstone and, so this
was exciting to do.

What was unusual about the frilling operation
in Yellowstone?

Well ah, that was not considered that interesting.

The economics are at greater depths.

You would, at that time, --- you wanted to
have at least 200 degrees Celsius.

Today, they're working at much lower temperatures.

But then 200 degrees to 240 were kind of optimum.

They were going deep enough to get much higher
temperatures, but when you drill the well,

it was very expensive and to stop and do any
kind of measurements in the shallow part of

the system wasn't considered economic at that

And they were also using very big drills and
lots of water.

So they were cooling things down, you couldn't
get good temperatures in the near surface.

You certainly couldn't measure pressures.

So they would punch right through the shallow
zone that we were interested in and go for

the deep stuff and then case it off.

Describe capping the well that was shown years
ago on CNN, I was key to that.


Ah, we put in the wells.

We finished them such that the valve at the
top was at below ground surface.

There was a cement cellar put around it with
a steel door on the top.

The idea was and the actuality was we kept
going back to these wells over time and measuring

temperatures and pressures and sampling fluids
and gases from them because with time our

ability to analyze things got better and better.

And people from other parts of the world came
and they had other interests and different

constituents and so we could give them samples.

Uhm, but with time, there were a certain amount
of leakages of gases containing hydrogen sulfide

and some of these wells began to be attacked
a little bit.

And one by one we cemented them up.

The Y-8 well was still open and the amount
of alteration increased there and it failed.

Actually the valve at the top was blown off.

This was within this locked cement cellar.

So in late November it happened.

And so we got ah...

Speaker 2: What year are we in?

Robert Fournier: We were in '80...

Speaker 2: '90.

Robert Fournier: '90, 92, 90 somewhere in

Speaker 2: '92 I think.

Robert Fournier: Ah, so uhm, I got a call
that, well that morning, from Rick Hutchinson,

and said we have a problem I need you up here.

And so I was up there that night.

And ah, yeah it obviously failed so uhm...

Speaker 2: What did you see when you got there?

Robert Fournier: Well I saw a huge amount
of water and steam blasting out like a jet

engine from underneath this lock thing.

So I met with the superintendent of the park
and I assured them that the USGS will fix

it and we would pay for it.

I did get a commitment from the park service
that they would do the, put up the, ah, do

it without bids, essentially.

So I went back to Menlo Park through my contacts
at the Geothermal Energy Industry.

I knew that there had been a problem with
a slim hole like we had in Honduras, and so

it was a hole drilled by a United Nations

So I found out what driller had taken care
of that problem.

And he was actually operating out of Salt
Lake City.

I contacted that driller and told him the
situation and asked if he would be interested

in participating and whether that he had drill
rig available.

He was, and they did, and he also had a drill
foreman that was in Idaho at that time.

So the very next day, he had his foreman into

They used a forklift to hold the pressure
-- the lid down on this pressurized cellar,

undid the lock, backed off the forklift and
the steam blew out like a geyser, and they

were able to see that the valve had blown

Measurements were made of exactly where the
pipe was within the cellar, then with the

forklift closed it up again put the lock on.

So with that information, that week over the
phone with the driller, we designed a piece

of equipment that we thought we could force
down over this erupting column, actually it

was a pipe with a couple of valves on it and
we wanted to lower this onto the erupting


My peculiar major contribution was calculating
what the thrust was of the fluid coming out

of that well because I knew how deep the well

I'd made pressure measurements in it, so forth,
so I knew how much weight we needed on this


So it was designed within a few days.

We started fabrication before we even had
a contract to do it.

Just went ahead with it and above then I contacted
the director of the survey and said, we've

got to pay for this.

So he decided, yes we had to do it.

So anyway we went forward with it.

Two weeks later, the equipment arrived on
site ready to go with the CNN; well actually

it was another local TV organization that
sold footage to CNN.

Anyway we were being put on TV as we put this
thing together.

So we had the drill rig there, we had the
new material there.

We opened up the top, the thing erupted.

We moved the new wellhead equipment over it.

It came down through this erupting column,
-- stopped the thing up.

Then we had to go into the well with drill
rods, cleaned it out because some silica deposited

in there; come in with the packer.

Everything worked exactly as planned.

We filled it up.

Also, and another thing, we had to do this
so as not to interfere with the small geyser

that was a few yards away.

We had intersected the channel bringing the
water to the geyser during the drilling so

that we knew that we were in that channel
of up-flow for the geyser and we dare not

stop that geyser by cementing up its tube
or Channel.

So we pumped in just enough concrete to fill
up the hole without effecting the geyser and

it's ah, doing fine.

Go ahead and add to what you were saying
It was very important that we get this well

Y-8 under control very quickly because the
park service was closed temporarily while

there was a transition between the summer
period and the winter period.

In the winder period they had to bring snow
coaches in over snow with people.

And so after certain point the park service
could no longer plow the roads.

They had to let snow accumulate.

And that point was very rapidly approaching.

So we had to get this thing capped before
the winter season came on because if the roads

got covered with snow, we couldn't bring in
the rig and so on.

So we had a very small period of time to do
this, which we did.

We got it done about two or three days before
a major snowstorm was to come through.

The second thing is that we had budgeted $25000
to do this repair, which was a princely sum


We did it for $22000.

So we came through on time under budget.

What about concerns about down hole pressure?

When we first started into the park, our background
was the pioneering work that Don White had

done at Steamboat Springs.

And at Steamboat he'd found that by putting
cold water into the well he could more than

balance the pressures that the, was heavier
than the weight of the hot water and so he

could control the wells very easily by just
putting in cold water.

Came the first well that was drilled in Yellowstone.

I wasn't on that well but I heard an awful
lot of it and I was very interested because

I was going to have to go and sit on some
of the wells afterwards.

Well they were down a certain depth and when
you drill the, --- when you pull the drill

rods, you're open to the pressures underneath

Well they had filled water, ---- the well
with cold water and were pulling the rods

and suddenly the well went into eruption,

Well the drillers departed the drill rig very
quickly, and so there it was the erupting

well, Patrick Muffler, Don White.

---- Patrick climbed back up on this well
that was erupting and began to maneuver the

machinery around to such a point that he could
get cold water coming back into the system

and get the well back under control.

At which point the drillers rather sheepishly
I'm told came back on to the drill rig and

took it from there.

After that, the drillers I believe had a lot
more respect for the geologists involved.

Now, because we found that the underground
pressures, fluid pressures underground ---- were

controlled not by the weight of the overlying
column of hot water but were controlled by

the weight of the cold water going into the

We found that all of the hot spring basins
were very much, uhm, subject to erupting very

easily, hydrothermal eruptions and others
because there were, there were here, you know,

really ready to go.

So this also, --- our drilling showed us that
the conditions in the Upper Geyser basin and

parts of the Lower Basin were optimum for
sustaining long lived hot spring activity

and Geyser activity.

My silica information showed that the temperature
at upper basin was optimum for not depositing

amorphous silica as the natural waters flowed
from depth to the surface.

That the silica would not deposit as amorphous
silica until after it reached the surface.

This meant that the system was to remain relatively

Other minerals might deposit but it wasn't
silica, which was the main mineral.

So we had one, the temperatures are appropriate
for not stopping up the system.

And two they had enough energy to give the
big Geyser eruptions that we see right now.

So it really explains why Yellowstone is,
why we see it as a premiere place in the world

for Geyser activity.

How does it compare to New Zealand?

Uhm, New Zealand, it, it compares --- the
situation as quite similar to New Zealand.

We don't know as much about the deep part
of this --- at least I don't know as much

about the deep part of the system in New Zealand
as they have a series of calderas.

They have a series of hot spring systems.

Many of them are producing from reservoirs,
--- source areas for the springs that are

about 200 to 240.The geothermal energy production
mostly is coming from around 240, now it's

going up to around 300 degrees and so, ah,

But the Yellowstone system was much bigger
and what you need to keep the hot spring system

going at Yellowstone are one, a very, very
large heat source.

You need a source of recharged water, which
is a big snowfall that we get at Yellowstone,

which we don't get at New Zealand.

So we have a continuous source of water going
on there as the snow melts during the season.

And we have a lot of seismic activity, which
keeps the system open.

So that if it gets stopped up by mineral deposition,
which it does at deeper parts, this seismic

activity opens it up again.

New Zealand has seismic activity but it wasn't
as seismically active to my knowledge as Yellowstone.

I still go to the web to look at how much
seismic activity there is in New Zealand and

elsewhere and it just doesn't have as much
and it certainly doesn't have the year-round

source of recharge water, and a huge amount
of recharge water that Yellowstone has.

And it may or may not have as high a temperature
underground as Yellowstone has.

How has the concept of the heat source changed
over time?

It’s evolving.

And different people have different thoughts
about what the heat source is and how it's


When I first started working at the Yellowstone,
we knew that it was volcanic.

Ah, even though I had met Joe Boyd as a grad,
he was a grad student.

I was an undergrad student.

I had met him there.

He was working at the Geophysical Laboratory
when I went to Washington DC.

I knew him mostly as an experimentalist.

I didn't really appreciate what he'd done
in Yellowstone.

So when I got to Yellowstone, we knew it was
volcanic, we knew that there was heat down

there but we weren't even sure whether or
not there was any magma left down there.

And so then it was through association with
Chris that suddenly the whole concept of what

was going on came into focus.

Very early on, the thought was that we had
magma underlying the Yellowstone caldera at

fairly shallow depth.

Underneath the whole darned caldera.

And that was the working model he had going

Then I got interested in how deep the water
might be going and so I teamed up with Mitch

Pitt here, seismologist, and we began to look
at how deep the earthquakes were.

At the same time, Bob Smith at Utah was doing
very similar work.

And so, anyway, uhm, looking at very precise
locations, Mitch and I determined that seismicity

was only occurring within the caldera to a
depth of about four to five kilometers with

then best data we had available.

So I reasoned that the water could not be
going into the ground any deeper from the

recharge then there's where there’s seismic
activity to keep things open.

So this put a depth of circulation on the
hydrothermal system of about four to five


So this then gave us a baseline to a look
at a hydrothermal system with mostly pretty

much shallow recharged by meteoric water,
and it was kept open by seismic activity that

only extended down to about four to five kilometers.

Could you just continue on that topic?

We were, we were concerned about why there
was a difference between what Don White had

found at Steamboat Springs Nevada and what
we had found in Yellowstone.

I can only speculate about Steamboat because
I have not worked there.

Steamboat was coming out pretty much of a
granitic system.

Ah, it was not experiencing a great amount
of seismic activity to keep things open.

It was also close to some major faults between
the basin and range and the block of rock,

which shows us here in Nevada Mountains.

I can only speculate that the early seismicity
that opened up the hydrothermal system at

Yellowstone or rather at Steamboat Springs
had opened up fractures in the rock but the

system was not so hot that there was a lot
of movement of really hot waters from underground

to the shallow part of the system.

So that hot water wasn't getting much hotter
than about 200 to 210-20 degrees Celsius at

Steamboat so it wasn't picking up enough silica
to stop things up.

So even though the seismicity may have occurred
a long time previously, it was remaining open.

And so for that reason, the water was able
to get out of the system fairly readily without

depositing a lot of silica.

200 degrees, very little silica is going to
come out on the way up.

So the pressures in the up flow zones were
controlled by the weight of the overlying

hot boiling water not by the weight of the
recharge water.

And this is saying that the permeability of
the recharge water was relatively restricted

whereas the permeability along the flow path
of the discharge water was really wide open.

At Yellowstone it was just the reverse.

The permeability and the recharge path would
be kept open by deep seismicity, which was

opening up things and the large amount of
silica in the water was stopping up flow out

of the system so that we had the reverse going

What was the difference between steamboat
and Yellowstone?

Ah, a major difference between the hot spring
system at Steamboat Springs, Nevada and Yellowstone

is that Yellowstone is a much hotter system
at depth.

The drilling that has gone on at Steamboat
Springs, the water that is being produced

for geothermal energy is coming from source
areas, which are only around 200-210 degrees,

something like that.

And at these relatively low temperatures,
there's very little material that is deposited

on the discharge part of the system.

At Yellowstone, we had much, much higher temperatures
the water is deep, deep flowing waters there

dissolve a lot more material and they begin
to deposit that material as the water flows

toward the surface.

So things get very much stopped up.

You're kind of putting a stopper or at least
you're putting a, like a faucet on your water


You have high pressures in your household
water system because people have valves to

close it off and so at some point you have
the source area for your water, which is way

off in some kind of a holding area and it
flows underground and water pressures are

kept high because the source area pressure
is high.

At Steamboat it's as if everybody opened up
their valve at the same time at the surface

and so water pressures are dropped.

Don White ah, as Patrick noted was one of
the great icons.

He had studied Steamboat Springs.

He had studied what was going on at the shallow
part of the system.

He was very, very generous with his time and
his comments and so on.

Uhm, he was very, very generous in coming
with me to Yellowstone.

And then when we were in Yellowstone working
most of the time, Don would be on a well and

I'd be back in Menlo Park and we'd switch

So I wasn't with him in the field very much.

But we argued a lot about what was going on.

And Don most of the time was right.

And uhm, Don would stick to his beliefs until
he was convinced that your arguments were


And as soon as he determined that your arguments
were sound, he was very good about saying,

OK you are right and very graciously, he would
say, go ahead with what you're doing.

And so he was great to work with.

He made you really be clear about your ideas
and then if you are right, he'd say fine.

If you weren't right, go back to the drawing

Don was just a really good scientist and a
great scholar and a marvelous gentleman.

Marvelous to work with.

Describe collaborating during fieldwork
Before Chris started to work in the park,

Chris looked at all the maps, looked at the
topography and drew out what he thought was

going to happen.

And so then talking with him in the park,
we would sit down and he would sort of turn

page and say, hey it is.

You know this is the way it is.

This is the way we thought it should be and
it is the way it should be.

And uhm, of course I was working in a field
entirely different than Chris.

Chris was doing the geology and I was working
on, on the waters and so, but we had a very

diverse group of people working in the park.

Chris was doing the geology, which was marvelous.

Don was sort of an overseer of things.

Eventually working in the park, we had geophysicists
come in.

We had people working on the glacial picture.

So Jerry Richmond was with I'm most had.

And so it was just every day, we were learning
something new and we're talking to each other

at night about what we'd found.

And it was just very marvelous to have all
of this enthusiasm going on at the same time.

Did you work with Ken Pierce?

I know Ken.

Ken didn't have any direct contact in the
park during those early years.

I've had more contact with Ken since then
and I'm very, very impressed with what Ken

was doing and then of course when I was interested
in what the fluid inclusion data were telling

us about hot temperatures, about seeing how
well my estimates of how deep or how thick

the ice would be according to what Ken would
have to say and, and, ah, yes this was fine.

And then also Ken became more interested in
the caldera moving up and down, inflation-deflation

and I became very, very interested in the
deflation-inflation, ah, deflation-inflation

part of the story and related that to hydrothermal

But that all was in the later years so not
in the earlier years and so most of my activity

with Ken had to do with ideas about movements
of caldera up and down.

What do you think of the previous portrayal
of the Yellowstone story?

When the people from the television group,
it was an English group, that wanted to do

the initial one, they approached the Park
Service and asked somebody from the park Service

to show them around the park when they're
first writing the script.

Ah, the park service suggested that they talk
to me.

I was going to be in the park about the same
time they were at another meeting.

And so I ended up showing the group, the producer
and the writer, around Yellowstone to come

up with the first storyline.

I spent most of that time trying to talk them
out of it but it was obvious they weren't

going to talk, be talked out of it.

So, yeah, I was involved with them there.

I thought, in general, they did a pretty good
job of saying, what would happen if you are

willing to take their assumptions as being

This I do not do.

I disagree with their assumptions but for
their assumptions, are pretty good.

Any epiphanies during your career?

In terms of whether I've made great discoveries
while I was on a drill rig, uhm, the really

great discoveries came with the first two
wells that were drilled.

And those were Don's and Patrick’s.

And so, there were lots of moments where things
happen but it isn't that I was in the field

and suddenly realized that that something
was there.

A lot of my major feelings of breakthroughs
actually didn't come in the field they came

when I had time to reflect on what I've been
doing in the field and so they came at other

times but, I had a lot of really interesting
times on drill rigs.

One discovery we made ah, we uhm, were trying
to drill with, against this fluid pressure

underground and so one thing that was tried
on the Y-3 drill hole and I think I misspoke

earlier about saying that we drilled where
the public could look at us and saying it

was Y-5, no it's Y-3.

Y-3 drill hole we started to use some mud
to maintain this pressure.

And in spite of the mud ---- went into eruption
and so instead of having water, which cools

down pretty rapidly by evaporation, mud stays
hot very long.

And so we were getting very hot sticky mud
thrown over everything, the drill rig, the

drillers, everything.

And so we learned very quickly.

It was a real breakthrough then that we didn't
want to drill with mud.

We want to strictly stay with hot water.

So that was kind of interesting to do.

Actually we were in a situation where we were
trying to set the first major drill string.

What we would do, we would drill about 10-15
feet, enough pipe in the ground to set a four-inch

valve at the surface and then we would drill
through the valve to about 100 feet to the

point where we found our first solid rock
and then try to put 100 feet of casing in

the ground and so we were only at about ten
feet of pipe in the well and it went into


It was throwing stuff all over the place.

And we had to get back into it to get our
casing in.

So we had to lower the casing pipe with chain
rather than the usual way of from the top

of the drill rig.

We had a chain around it and we're lowering
it in through this four-inch pipe hoping that

it wouldn't fail with the whole thing erupting
the whole time we were putting this pipe into

the ground.

And so that was, --- by then the mud was all
gone so it was just hot water coming out.

So that was a rather exciting time to try
to get that pipe into the ground at a place

where the public could see what we're doing.

Speaker 2: Well there was a public watching
all that?

Robert Fournier: The public came through every

Speaker 2: Uhuh.

Robert Fournier: ...with a guided tour because
by then Patrick and Don

Had told the park service about what Pocket
Basin really was and we were drilling right

on the side of pocket basin.

So the park service had decided that they
were going to hold a tour in the Pocket Basin

to show people a hydrothermal explosion crater.

So we were also right on a road, which was
a side road, Fountain Flat road, but people

were going around there and it was also a
road the people like to go on to see game

at night and so on.

So yeah, people were coming by and so we had
a big sign out saying USGS Danger, Stay Away

and so on.

And I think you have a picture of that, -- that
has been given to you.

So when the tour came around and when people
came around to stop through.

One of my main things was to talk to them
about what we were doing.

And very commonly their initial response was
very hostile, what are you doing drilling

in this park and so on.

And by the time they learned what we were
doing and why we were doing it and what we

were learning, the response turned right around
and people went away supportive.

What are your personal feelings about Yellowstone?

Well, it's been a very, very important part
of my life.

It's been a very important part of my scientific
growing up.

It has been a cornerstone of reality that
I can keep on going back to.

I suppose in part though, it isn't all in
reality because there's an awful lot of supposition

going on and it's been really interesting
to me to watch new techniques come on in which

we can learn more and it has taught me that
I really have to keep on evolving what I think

about things that early thoughts are fine
but you have to keep looking at and reevaluating

your data.

And Yellowstone was always one of the cornerstones.

I kept on working back and forth from Yellowstone
to natural systems, other natural systems

elsewhere in the world that I was working

And so, and then you come to Yellow- love

Yellowstone was valuable to us scientifically
because it had not been exploited and it's

still has not been exploited.

And so we can really see a system in its natural

And that being able to look and study a system
in its natural state such as Yellowstone is,

it's unique.

And then, you know, so many good memories
about Yellowstone.

I love going back.

Describe memorable moments with the drilling
in Yellowstone

After being involved with the Y-3 eruption,
I went and sat on Y-4, which was relatively

uneventful, had some interesting things happened
in it.

Then I started the Y-5 drill hole that had
the finding of the tuff, ash-flow tuff.

Actually I cited the hole there and it was
at a grizzly dump.

We had again about ten feet of casing in the
well and we're trying to set the 100 feet

of casing.

We're also drilling again very close to a
naturally flowing hot spring as we were at

the Y-3 one.

And as the drillers were trying to get, drop
the 100 feet of four-inch casing into the

well it got stuck on the way.

It got crooked.

And the, it was only the driller and his helper
and they were trying to lift a hundred feet

of 4-inch casing themselves and weren't having
much luck so I grabbed a big wrench and hopped

up in the drill rig with them and the three
of us lifted the 100-feet casing up.

I felt something kind of go on my back and
felt that I'd pulled a muscle or or something.

And so we got the casing in.

I was very much afraid that the well was starting
to heat up.

Hot water was coming out.

I was afraid it was going to go into a major
eruption and I didn't want another major eruption

on our hands and I was afraid that we might
lose the well because I wasn't sure how well

cemented that first ten feet of casing was.

So we had to get that well under control and
so we got up there.

I helped lift it and we got it down there
and I have this thing going on my back.

Fortunately the next day Patrick arrived to
take over sitting on that well for me.

So I was able to give it off to Patrick and
then drove home.

And I had some other things going on.

My mother had just sold her house and was
moving into a retirement and I had helped

her move and had to do some other things and
so, that was then about six months later that

I went into a physical check-up and then told
my doctor that I had had a back ache for the

last four or five months.

And so he said then let's x-ray it.

And he found that I had two-step faults in
my third lumbar vertebra.

Speaker 2: So was it a broken back?

Robert Fournier: A broken back, right.

A broken back with two offset faults.

Speaker 2: Has government fixed that for you?

Robert Fournier: Well by then I was congratulated
by my doctor for having saved myself six months

in traction.

Speaker 2: Oh.


Robert Fournier: It already healed itself.

And so I, I haven't had any real problems
with that until the last 15 years.

Any run-ins with wild life you want to tell
us about?

Uhm, my branch chief came out to visit while
I was working in the park and he came out

with his wife who is also a geologist and
their infant child, who was being carried

on my branch chief's back, Pete Tollman, who
had a false arm and hand.

Anyway I was taking them to a fairly remote
area to see a hot spring geyser that was out


We were walking through a lodge pole pine
forest and the lodge poles weren't very tall

in that area.

And as we were going I suddenly heard what
was --- seemed to be a large animal move in

front of us.

And so I suggested, -- well we change direction
and started off in that direction, and the

next thing I knew was I saw this very large
grizzly loping toward us.

Ah, what to do?

The trees are too small to climb and so my
branch chief hadn't seen the bear yet and

I said, oh there's a bear approaching would
you turn around and walk away.

I knew that it was impossible to run because
you run and the bear might think we're game,

no trees to climb.

And so I had my geologic pick and so I had
my pick.

And I'd I sort of stood sideways and crouch
down so as not to look imposing to the bear

and I started talking to it, you great big
beautiful bear and so on and it kept coming

closer and closer and so finally it stopped,
about 40-50 feet away.

And it squinted and determined who we were
and it turned around and walked away.

Describe the first time you were in Yellowstone
The first time I was in Yellowstone, my introduction

to Yellowstone.

It was in the fall, it was very cold.

Julian Hemley and I we stopped at the Tower
Falls Camp ground, cold rainy night, we were

the only ones there.

Julian and his wife and child slept in the

I had a sleeping bag and tarp and I put it
out in the campground and I put my sleeping

bag on the tarp, tarp over me then.

And so I was there all alone.

In the middle of the night I felt this scratching
on the middle of myself.

And so I had a flashlight in my sleeping bag
and so I pulled the sleeping bag away from

my face and I looked up and there was this
open-mouthed bear about four or five inches

from my face.

I had no idea what the intentions of the bear

He's probably just curious but anyway when
you see an open-mouthed bear that close to

when you're kind of confined in your sleeping
bag, you have various thoughts come through

your mind.

So I remembered that if you have a crocodile
that's after you and it's going to eat you,

you put a stick in his mouth.

So I stuck my flashlight in the bear's mouth
and it couldn't close it's mouth and so the

bear ran off with my flashlight trying to
get it out of its mouth and then I got out

of the sleeping bag and ran out after the
bear and it finally got the flashlight out

of its mouth and I got my flashlight back
and went to sleep for the rest of the night,

sort of.

Speaker 2: Was it a black bear or a grizzly?

Robert Fournier: It was a black bear.

Speaker 2: My goodness.

Robert Fournier: I didn't know that when it
had its mouth open though.