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The structure and volume of large geysers in Yellowstone National Park, USA and the mineralogy and chemistry of their silica sinter deposits

September 9, 2021

Siliceous sinter is formed by biogenic and abiogenic opal deposition around hot springs and geysers. Using Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry we generated three-dimensional models of Giant and Castle Geysers from the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. We use these models to calculate an approximate mass of sinter for each (~2 and ~ 5 kton, respectively) and estimate a range of plausible long-term deposition rates for Castle Geyser (470 to 940 kg·yr−1). We estimate ~2% of the silica discharged from Castle Geyser is deposited as sinter in the cone and proximal terraces. We collected 15 sinter samples following the stratigraphy of each geyser from an older terrace to a younger cone and examined them using a variety of analytical methods. We find that young opaline sinter with a water content of <12 wt% (from loss on ignition) contains higher concentrations of major and trace elements, notably As, Sb, Rb, Ga and Cs, relative to older dehydrated sinter. Rare earth element (REE) concentrations in sinter are 2–3 orders of magnitude higher than in the thermal water from which they are deposited. Sinter deposits are enriched in light REE, Gd and Yb when normalized to concentrations in thermal water and enriched in Eu, Tm, and Yb when normalized to the underlying rhyolite. Sinter samples with the highest REE concentrations are also enriched in organic material, implying either microbial uptake of REE, or that organic molecules are efficient ligands that form metal complexes.