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It will now be a lot easier for scientists and the interested public to monitor thermal features in Yellowstone National Park's Norris Geyser Basin.

Thanks to the installation of a series of 10 monitors this summer, data will be collected daily on water outflows from geysers, stream channels, the temperature of hot pools, the soil and air.

"The park has been collecting this kind of data for years, but they never had the opportunity to post it almost immediately, which is unique about this project," said Jake Lowenstern, scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

Previously, all of the information had to be downloaded from the units by hand, then uploaded to the Internet.

The monitors are small, battery-operated devices that will feed their data daily by radio signals to the observatory. The data will then be transformed to provide daily, weekly and monthly statistics for posting on its website for all to see within 24 hours.

"This will give people the chance to follow geysers, keep track of soil temperatures that often get hot during disturbances and water flows," Lowenstern said.

The Norris Geyser Basin sits above the intersection of three fault zones, which is possibly one reason why its thermal features are predictably unpredictable.

A rise in the temperature of water in geyser outlet channels - such as Steamboat, Echinus and Constant - would typically signal an eruption. Rising water temperatures in pools like Opalescent Spring or Porkchop Geyser could indicate an inflow of hot water. An increase in the soil temperature may indicate basinwide changes in groundwater flow and heat discharge.

The temperatures and flows can be altered by earthquakes, which are common occurrences in the park. They also can be changed by seismic events outside the park. In 2002, an earthquake in Alaska affected a number of Yellowstone's thermal features.

"With this equipment we'll see the effects almost immediately," Lowenstern said. "We don't expect that to be the case with every earthquake, but people can check it out."

The monitors were purchased and installed with money from the federal government's stimulus plan. The funding also helped the observatory upgrade seven outdated earthquake monitors in Yellowstone. Another seven will be upgraded next year.

Although installation of the seismic equipment is a big first step, Bob Smith, a geologist with the University of Utah, said there's still a lot of work to do to get the data transferred from the sites and then have it digested so it can be posted on the YVO website.

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"This is like going from a 1980s car to a 2012 car," Smith said.

The data produced will come in faster and be more reliable, he said.

Yellowstone is one of the most seismically active places in the world, sitting atop a now-dormant super volcano. All of the new monitoring equipment may help scientists better understand how the earth's plumbing in this unique region is interconnected.

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or 657-1387.

 

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