Saturday, May 5, 2012

April 29, 2012. Yellowstone. Norris Geyser Basin. Part 3 of 5.

At the heart of Yellowstone's past, present, and future
lies volcanism.
Huge volcanic eruptions occurred here
about 2 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago,
and 640,000 years ago.
The last super-eruption belched out 240 cubic miles of debris.
Once the magma had spewed forth,
the volcano collapsed in on itself,
forming a 30- by 45- mile caldera.
The magmatic heat powering those eruptions to this day powers
the park's geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots.

Mr. Hawthorne and I are exploring Yellowstone Park
on the West side today.
The East side is still closed.
We're visiting Norris Geyser Basin -
the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic
 of Yellowstone's thermal areas
and named after Philetus W. Norris,
the second superintendent of Yellowstone,
who provided the first detailed information about the thermal features.

We missed this on our last visit to Yellowstone.
One can only take in so much of Yellowstone
at a time.

On our way to Norris Basin,
we stopped at Nymph Lake,
 the most acidic in Yellowstone.
No fishies here.

Here's my video of Nymph Lake:

Yellowstone is nothing if not about thermal activity.

The highest temperature yet recorded
in any geothermal area in Yellowstone
was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris Basin:
459 degrees at 1087 feet below the surface.
There are very few thermal features at Norris 
under the boiling point, which is 199 degrees Fahrenheit
at this elevation.

The geothermal features in Norris Basin change daily,
with frequent disturbances from water fluctuations and seismic activity.

The Hawthornes are entering the Norris Geyser Basin.
This is a world of heat and gases,
where microorganisms live in such massive numbers
that they add color to the landscape.
This strange, beautiful place
is on the edge of a giant volcano
- the Yellowstone Volcano -
one of the largest on Earth.

This is both beautiful and bizarre.
It is other-worldly.
The basin is far below the peaks of the Gallatin Mountain Range.
Water accumulates underground.
It is heated by the magma of the Yellowstone Volcano.
And the water travels upward to
 erupt from acidic geysers, 
rise from steaming fumaroles,
and simmer in shining, glistening, colorful pools.

Norris Geyser Basin is located near the Yellowstone Caldera.
This vast caldera is a legacy of the colossal eruption 
that burst forth about 640,000 years ago.
The Yellowstone Volcano is still alive today.
In the geyser basin, 
signs of the volcano's heat and gases are everywhere.

Yellowstone has been designated a
 U.S. Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site.
Its boundaries protect over 10,00 geysers, hot springs,
mud pots, and steam vents.
Yellowstone is the earth's largest display
of geothermal features.
The hottest of Yellowstone's geothermal features
are steam vents, or fumaroles.

Here are my videos of Norris Geyser Basin:

This is the porcelain landscape of 
Norris Geyser Basin.
The sweeping view is named for its porcelain-like appearance-
smooth sinter deposited by centuries
of thermal activity.
The area is continually glazed by minerals,
hot water, and living, heat-loving microorganisms called thermophiles.

Like most geyser basins,
Norris is lower in elevation than
the surrounding terrain -
located in a bowl or basin.

Iron is common here -
one cause of the rust color in the basin.

Although many Yellowstone thermal features are alkaline,
numerous geyser and hot springs at Norris Basin are acidic.

In this raw, acidic land
where iron and arsenic abound,
thermophiles and extremophiles
- microorganism that live in heat and other extremes-
inhabit geysers and hot springs.

This is the ethereal Porcelain Springs.
The milky color of the mineral deposited here 
inspired the naming of Porcelain Basin and Porcelain Springs.
The mineral, siliceous sinter, 
is brought to the surface by hot water
and forms a sinter "sheet" over this flat area
as the water flows across the ground and the mineral settles out.
This is the fastest changing area in Norris Geyser Basin
and siliceous sinter is one of the agents of change.
If the mineral seals off a hot spring or geyser
by accumulating in its vent,
the hot, pressurized water 
may flow underground to another weak area and blow through it.
Siliceous sinter is also called geyserite.
Deposits usually accumulate very slowly
- less than 1 inch per century -
and form the geyser cones and mounds
seen in most geyser basins.

Here's a video of Porcelain Springs:

Many pools are opalescent, or cloudy
Murky waters are caused by silica in the water.

Ahead of me is solfatara, or unstable ground.
This hillside is venting.
As sulfuric acid, gases, and steam escape,
they create a barren and very dangerous landscape
called a solfatara.
Scalding mud and steam are often barely covered
by hot, crumbling, decomposed rock.
Unlike other geothermal features,
the solfatara's high concentration of sulfuric acid
breaks down the surrounding rock,
making a confined "plumbing system" unlikely
- the gases and steam escape less dramatically.

Geologic Forces Sculpt Yellowstone
 The greater Yellowstone area has been shaped and reshaped 
for millions of years by epic geologic forces and processes.
Much of Yellowstone National Park's present appearance
can be traced to one of the larges volcanic explosions in earth's history,
roughly 600,000 years ago.
Portions of the caldera, or crater,
left by this explosion are still visible today
from several points around Yellowstone.

A body of partially molten rock still exists close
close to the earth's surface in Yellowstone.
Geothermal features in the park are fueled
by this heat source and are visible links
to Yellowstone's volcanic past - 
and possibly, its future. 
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is one of Yellowstone's
most colorful and dramatic geothermal areas.
This basin is also the park's oldest, hottest, 
and most changeable.
Explore Porcelain Basin and Back Basin;
observe primal geologic forces sculpting the land.

After exploring Norris Geyser Basin,
I'm taking the Back Basin Trail.
Don't know where Mr. Hawthorne is
but I have a pretty good idea ...

Back Basin is tucked into the woods
and it's full of surprising sites, sounds, and smells.
It is alive with heat and gases from 
the Yellowstone Volcano.

Geysers and hot springs
are frequently changing here -
evidence that the volcano is very much alive below ground.

This is Emerald Spring.
A hot spring's color often indicates the presence
of minerals.
In a clear blue pool,
the water is absorbing all the colors of the sunlight
except one - blue, which is reflected back to our eyes.

In Emerald Spring's pool,
another factor joins with light refraction to 
give this spring its color.
The 27-foot deep pool
is lined with sulfur deposits.
The yellow color from the sulfur
combines with the reflected blue light,
making the hot spring appear emerald green.

This is Steamboat Geyser,
the world's tallest geyser.
Infrequent major eruptions spew 300-400 feet,
the last major eruption being May 23, 2005.
Frequent minor eruptions are 10-70 feet.

Should I stay and wait for a major eruption?

Steamboat Geyser
Learning to Love the Unpredictable

When Steamboat Geyser erupts,
it can rocket a column of scalding water
90 - 120 meters into the air -
two to three times the average height of Old Faithful.
 Steam roars for twenty-four hours after.
Odds are against your witnessing this drama, however,
since Steamboat's major eruptions occur four days
to fifty years apart.

In Yellowstone's geyser basins,
unpredictability is the pattern.
Old Faithful's relatively predictable intervals 
are the exception.  
An earthquake could disrupt Old Faithful's timetable,
or a  shift in subterranean plumbing could allow
Steamboat more frequent eruptions.

Eruption Indicators
Though order and symmetry in nature
can be reassuring, 
true geyser gazers appreciate surprise and suspense.
Watch the larger, upslope vent for massive, frequent bursts
to heights of at least 5-10 meters,
accompanied by heavy runoff -
Steamboat's only known eruption indicators.

When Steamboat Geyser has a major eruption,
the deep pool of nearby Cistern Spring drains
almost completely.  
Gradually, within a day or two 
after Steamboat's eruption,
Cistern begins to refill.

I was heading back to the truck
when I noticed this little cutie
right off the boardwalk.

At first she ignored me and pretended I wasn't there.

Then I started making bunny noises
and she relaxed and nibbled on grasses.

She wants to make friends with me.

I named her.

Her name is Phluffy Phiona.

She and I became fast friends.
That is until I left.

There was a family a ways up on the walkway with young children -
a little boy and a 5 or so year old little girl.

I quietly mentioned to the father
that there was a cute little bunny down the road
if he wanted to take his children to see her.
Evidently I wasn't quiet enough -
since the little girl immediately started screaming,

Tough shit, Toots!
That freaking bunny is long gone.
As is every grizzly bear in a 10 mile radius. 
Little bitch.


zzzadig said...

When I was there, the geologist in me said, "you are standing on thin crust over an active volcanic region, why are you here? Run away"

Marilyn said...

With my luck, I'd go there and the caldera would blow. Not that I'd be much safer here in Southern Indiana.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Mar and Zzzadig, my sentiments exactly.