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Tis the season…for field work in Yellowstone!

The month of May marks the start of many field studies for scientists affiliated with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO).

Map of locations for temperature measurement sites in Norris Geyser...
Map of locations for temperature measurement sites in Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week's contribution is from Mike Poland, geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The month of May marks the start of many field studies for scientists affiliated with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO). By that time, the roads in Yellowstone National Park are open and, during most years, snow levels are low enough that scientists can access monitoring sites to do maintenance and installation work. This May was no different, and several YVO scientists spent last week in the Park focused on a variety of tasks—including work on temperature sensors and GPS stations.

At Norris Geyser Basin, YVO operates a 9-station temperature network. Taking continuous temperature readings of hot springs and geysers is nothing new. Yellowstone National Park scientists have been doing that sort of work for decades! But the Norris network is unique because it is telemetered—that is, data are downloaded every day via radio and made available on line for public viewing.

Scientists digging a hole in snow to install semipermanent GPS station Yellowstone
USGS scientists Rebecca Kramer and Dan Dzurisin install a solar panel and GPS antenna (green square) at a semipermanent GPS station in the southern part of Yellowstone National Park. The work first required digging through 4 feet of snow!

The Norris temperature network stations each have a datalogger, radio antenna, and thermometer, all powered by a small lithium-ion battery pack that can last up to 2 years. To ensure that stations continue to operate year-round, a maintenance trip every May focuses on replacing broken equipment that might have failed during the winter, and also swapping old batteries for new ones where needed.

Most of the stations worked well through the winter. The thermometer at the Tantalus Creek station was clearly broken, since for several months it had been registering temperatures below zero Celsius in flowing liquid water. That sensor was replaced and is now functioning normally. The only station that was completely offline through the winter was, unfortunately, the one monitoring Steamboat geyser. Happily, however, upgrades to the equipment there revived the sensor, and it is now operational once again, providing temperature data showing water eruptions of the geyser! Hopefully strong torrents of water issuing from the geyser during future eruptions won't sweep the thermometer away...

All Norris temperature data are available on the YVO monitoring map (zoom in to the Norris area and select one of the thermometer symbols for data plots) or from the individual station pages accessible from the Norris temperature network homepage.

In addition to the year-round continuous GPS network that operates in Yellowstone, YVO maintains a network of 16 "semipermanent" GPS stations around the park. These GPS sites are deployed in May and recovered in October, and are located in areas that lack continuous sites. The semipermanent stations are not telemetered, so data are not available in real time. Only in October, when the equipment is removed before the onset of winter, can the data be analyzed. Data from these sites can be viewed on the USGS Yellowstone semipermanent GPS network page.

Last week, 15 of the 16 semipermanent GPS sites were deployed. An equipment malfunction prevented installation of the last site, but that will be done at a later time.

In addition to field work, YVO scientists took time out to interact with local communities. On May 16, several USGS and National Park Service geoscientists gave a public presentation and answered questions in Gardiner, Montana. A few days later, on May 22, USGS and NPS combined with the University of Utah for a presentation with a questions and answers session. Hopefully these sorts of events will turn into annual traditions in the years to come.

Now that the snows are melting and the temperatures are warming (albeit slowly—it snowed during most of the field days last week!), more field work is on the horizon. This will include more equipment maintenance, geologic mapping, geochemical sampling, and many other studies. Stay tuned for more results from another exciting field season in Yellowstone!

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