Yellowstone National Park: Scientists Map ‘Plumbing’ Beneath Famous Hot Springs With a Helicopter

by Chase Thomas

Yellowstone National Park is on a lot of folks’ bucket lists all around the country. One of the areas that folks want to explore, though, is that old geyser known as “Old Faithful.” The geyser that shoots water over 180 feet up in the air is a sight to behold for folks. The reason that this happens is because of the flaming hot magma that lies beneath the surface. It gets so hot that the water bursts into the air. However, now some scientists have mapped “plumbing” beneath the famous Hot Springs with a helicopter.

The ‘Plumbing’ Beneath Yellowstone National Park

Carol Finn, of the US Geological Survey who works as a research geophysicist, told Wired, “We didn’t have any pictures of [the area] between the surface and the magma at all.” How wild is that? She continued, “So although a lot of the geochemistry was known, no one’s ever seen a picture of: How does the water flow? Where does it go? Where does it mix?” The questions remained about the plumbing at Yellowstone National Park. They never could see how it all worked under there. They just knew it involved magma and saw the result with water shooting 180 feet in the air.

Now, though, they can see. The way in which they can see what’s going on is nothing short of incredible. It involves an 80-foot-diameter electromagnetic ring. That ring is simply dangling from a helicopter beneath the surface.

What Does It All Mean?

Finn continued, “The other thing that we can see is the chemistry of groundwater.” They can now see what compounds are involved with what is going on with the groundwater. She added, “We could actually tell the difference between the cold water, which is generally at the top of the system, and hot water, which is deeper.” This makes sense considering the magma element. The cooler water would be atop the surface, while the magma and the water near it would be hot. They can map out the hydrothermal system beneath the hot springs.

Finn added, “All these things together can tell us how well electricity is conducted in the ground: It’s not conducted well with dry rocks, and it’s conducted well with wet rocks or clays.” There are a lot of moving parts. However, they now have a visual of what is going on.

University of Utah geophysicist Philip Wannamaker said, “It’s given a spectacularly comprehensive view of hydrothermal systems of this very famous volcanic region, and I hope that it motivates further studies in other systems that will probably be just as revealing.” It’s a big step in the right direction here. He concluded, “They’re groundbreaking on that front.”

Only time will tell what the next amazing breakthrough will be in understanding the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.