"Thermal Storm"

Yellowstone National Park
Photography by Gordy Blair


 Hiking through Yellowstone National Park
 

YELLOWSTONE NATURE NOTES
 

UNITED STATES
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Park, Wyoming

                          
Vol. XIV May - June, 1937 Nos. 5-6

THE BIRTH OF A HOT SPRING

by Ranger Naturalist Sweetman

 

Geysers eventually become either quiescent or extinct. Their eruptions may cease and they become pools of boiling water or steaming vents. They may become mere mounds, to all appearances cold and dead. The Giantess and the Beehive as well as the Lioness and the Big Cub geysers are not as active as they once were and their activity may cease altogether at some distant day. The Excelsior and the Splendid geysers have already ceased their play. The White Pyramid Cone and the cones about Old Faithful are but the cold monuments of what was once interesting thermal activity, although on cool mornings a light steam vapor may be distinguished at times.

Geysers become inactive in at least five different ways. First, the deposition of silica may build up the cone to such a height that the volume of water in the tube is increased considerably. This increase is sufficient to overcome the pressure of the steam generated at depth in the geyser tube and no eruption can take place. Second, an additional source of cold water may be tapped thus cooling the water in the geyser tube sufficiently to keep the water from attaining enough heat to cause an eruption. Third, the water which is supplying the geyser may find another outlet, causing the geyser "plumbing" to become dry. Fourth, the silica may seal the geyser tube and prevent further activity. Fifth, leaks may occur in the steam chamber allowing the steam to escape before it builds up pressure sufficient to cause an eruption.

Although geysers and hot springs are becoming dormant or ceasing their activity altogether, frequently there are new springs breaking through the earth's crust, some of them later to become active geysers. The Daisy Geyser, one of Yellowstone's most beautiful geysers, is a current example, it having become active about 1896 when the Splendid Geyser became too dilatory. While stationed at Old Faithful during the summer of 1936, it was the privilege of the writer to watch the birth of a new hot spring in Black Sand Basin.

The scene of this new activity is just northwest of Sunset Lake, a few feet to the right of the walk between this lake and Rainbow Pool. As we visited this area, a point of interest on the famous Geyser Chasing Caravan, there was no sign of activity in the early season. During the last few days of June a hissing sound was heard in the decomposed sinter which has the appearance of sand, and upon close examination the exact spot was ascertained.

geyser

For the first three weeks in July the hissing sound continued without any perceptible change in volume or in the surface of the ground. By the middle of July, however, a small depression, barely noticeable, began to make its appearance. This was about the size of a saucer and with its appearance there came an increase in the volume of the steam. This volume was growing stronger every few days until by the end of the month the steam was visible through the lowest portion of the depression, now the size of a dinner plate. There was as yet no sign of an opening. A few days later, one of the members of the Caravan stepped on the depression and it gave way slightly, deepening to about three inches in the center. On each successive trip, about four times a week with the writer, the hissing became louder. The steam was accompanied by little string-sized jets of water about one or two inches in height. Then, as we passed over the area on August 13 the pool had forced its way through the surface. Sandy water was bubbling up through the center of the pool which was about a foot deep and some fifteen inches in diameter. It is a boiling hot spring, clear about the edges and in the center plays a "sand fountain" from which bubbles rise to the surface.

This process is duplicated in the Mammoth Hot Spring area to a greater extent than in the geyser basins. There the formations are softer, being composed of travertine, while in the geyser basins the harder material, silica, is predominant.

So, as in the case of humanity where deaths are balanced by births, Nature destroys and creates these marvels of thermal activity.

A new book, "The Story of Yellowstone Geysers," by Park Naturalist Bauer and illustrated by Jack Ellis Haynes has been published this spring by Haynes, Inc. It is available at Information Desks and stores in the park for $1.50 (NOTE: Please remember, this article is re-printed from 1937 - this book is probably a collector item now and if available would be priced higher than $1.50).


 

Excerpt from: http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/yell/vol14-5-6c.htm#5


 





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