Keeping track of Yellowstone National Park’s hydrothermal features is a key element in monitoring Yellowstone’s volcanic activity.
But with more than 10,000 thermal features dotting the Yellowstone landscape, scientists cannot possibly stay up to date with everything that is happening in the park.
Blaine McCleskey, a research chemist at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), said it is “critical” to constantly monitor these features.
The geologist said: “Yellowstone National Park was established due to its extraordinarily high concentration of hydrothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, mud pots and steam vents.
“Groundwater interacts with the tremendous amount of heat from the magma body underlying Yellowstone to create more than 10,000 hydrothermal features.
“Monitoring these features is critical for managing the safety of visitors and for identifying changes in activity of the Yellowstone volcano, but tracking so many individual features distributed across 2.2 million acres is impossible.”
Monitoring Yellowstone volcano through its hydrothermal features can give scientists a good idea of ground movement, temperatures and other activity.
One way in which geologists do this is by tracking changes in the chemical composition of Yellowstone’s rivers.
Most of the scorching water spewed from Yellowstone volcano’s thermal features typically ends up in the Park’s rivers.
Mr McCleskey said measuring chemical indicators in river waters, such as the levels of chloride, give geologists a chance to measure volcanic activity without inspecting each of the 10,000 features.
The scientist said: “The most useful chemical indicator is in the chloride composition of the water, since hydrothermal waters have high concentrations of chloride.
“In fact, nearly all of the chloride in Yellowstone’s rivers comes from thermal features.
“Thus, monitoring the chloride flux in Yellowstone’s major rivers provides an overview of hydrothermal activity.”
Chloride flux is a collection of dissolved chloride moving through a certain point in a Yellowstone river over a certain period of time.
Because all of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal features discharge chloride into the park’s rivers, chloride flux levels give an overall idea of Yellowstone activity in geyser basins, remote areas and under lakes.
Mr McCleskey said: “The total chloride flux from Yellowstone can be estimated by monitoring just four rivers: the Madison River, Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs, Snake River, and Falls River.
“Of these four, the Madison River has the greatest flux—it accounts for about 46 percent of the total chloride flux out of the park.”
Yellowstone volcano’s nasty caldera-forming eruption took place about 640,000 years.
The giant blast created today’s 40-mile-wide caldera in the northwest part of Wyoming, US.
The supervolcano is monitored for signs of an eruption on a daily basis by the USGS and YVO.