University Of Wyoming Team Explores Yellowstone Beneath The Surface

Oct 5, 2020

Researchers are looking at the structure underneath features like Old Faithful, which erupts approximately every 90 minutes at heights of 106 to 185 ft.
Credit Jeff Vanuga

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are trying to find out what goes on beneath the surface of Yellowstone National Park.

Scientists know there is a reservoir of water deep beneath the park. Somehow, that water rises through pathways under the earth, creating the features that make Yellowstone unique. Ken Sims, UW Geology and Geophysics professor, said the high pressure in those pathways separates the water into acidic vapor and another more basic liquid.

"You can have two pools right next to each other and they can have completely different signatures," he said. "The model is that the acid one is chewing up the rock that's shallow, whereas the other stuff the water-rock interaction is old and it occurred deep."

Sims said scientists only have a 2D image of the park at the moment.

"Everything you look at at Old Faithful is a cartoon, essentially," he said. "At some point, the idea is that you'll see a real image of what it looks like down there, what the pathways are down beneath there, and then how that water is reacting with the rock to make the chemistry."

Sims said those pathways are also essential to understand the organisms that live in Yellowstone's thermal features.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu