Yellowstone volcano is home to the most active and most fascinating hydrothermal systems in the world. These Yellowstone features include the world famous Steamboat Geyser, Norris Geyser Basin and the Old Faithful Geyser. Combined together, the wonders of nature are all living proof of the intense volcanic activity rumbling deep below the surface of Yellowstone. But with more than 10,000 hydrothermal features spread cross Yellowstone National Park, monitoring for activity is not the easiest of tasks.
According to USGS lead scientist Michael Poland and geologist Wendy Stovall, even the smallest of Yellowstone explosions threaten the park’s guests.
The scientists explained in the weekly issue of the USGS Caldera Chronicles the dangers associated with hydrothermal eruptions.
They wrote: “There are good reasons for wanting to know more about how Yellowstone’s thermal areas work.
“From a public safety point of view, hydrothermal explosions – even small ones – constitute a potential hazard to visitors and Park staff.
“The protection of Yellowstone’s more than 10,000 thermal features is another motivation.
“Ensuring that future infrastructure does not impact Yellowstone’s hydrothermal heritage requires knowledge of how thermal features change over time.”
The scientists warned current monitoring systems are limited and are not well-suited to track “short-term changes” in the Yellowstone system.
In the Norris Geyser Basin, for instance, the USGS’ Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO) only has one seismometer keeping track of the rumbling ground.
Geologists studying Yellowstone are also limited in their ability to track changes in the composition of gases and water over time.
The USGS said: “Continuous monitoring of Yellowstone’s geyser basins would provide data before, during, and after interesting events.
“So far, scientists have been in response mode – after an event takes place, we leap into action to deploy additional monitoring equipment.
“Data that cover the build-up to an event could be critical to forecasting future similar changes.”
In September 2018, for instance, scientists were stunned to discover the unexpected development of a “thermal disturbance”.
Hydrothermal explosions – even small ones – constitute a potential hazard
US Geological Survey
The disturbance involved a rare eruption of Ear Spring following by the formation of a brand new thermal feature.
The USGS said scientists responded to the event immediately by deploying their instruments but very little is known about what happened underground prior to the eruption.
The agency said: “Imagine what might have been learned if a suite of seismic, deformation, chemical and other measurements were being collected.”
There are, however, plans to improve and build upon Yellowstone’s network of monitoring equipment.
The YVO plans to install new seismic stations, GPS trackers and tiltmeters as well as additional river monitoring sites.
The USGS said: “The next-generation monitoring plan will address the 2020-2030 period, with a focus on continuing to upgrade YVO’s monitoring capability throughout the Park – especially hydrothermal areas – utilising new technology.
“When it is ready, we look forward to sharing that plan in a future edition of the Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles.”
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