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Scientists Take Temperature of Yellowstone Hot Springs

Scientists Take Temperature of Yellowstone Hot Springs

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — A new sensor network installed in Yellowstone National Park this summer will provide scientists and the public near “real-time” data on what’s happening in one of the nation’s most active geyser basins.

The network, operated by the U.S. Geological Survey, began automatically transmitting temperature measurements from geysers and hot springs in the park’s Norris Geyser Basin this month.

Ten new, radio-equipped sensors were installed at different spots within the geyser basin, recording temperatures within runoff channels from geysers, hot pools, soils, and even air.  The data are saved by the sensors and are then transmitted daily via small radios and the Internet back to the USGS offices in Menlo Park, Calif. where they are archived, plotted and distributed to the public on the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory website.

Data gathered by the new sensors will be accessible within 24 hours of measurement, allowing for rapid assessment of changing conditions. When necessary, the equipment can be queried and the measurements read by YVO scientists in real-time.

The information will help scientists track temperature changes in local streams that might correlate with seismic tremors, and help Park officials keep an eye on thermal features for educational and safety purposes. 

“This innovative use of new technology will allow the public, park staff, educators, and scientists to observe temperature variations in Norris Geyser Basin, one of Yellowstone’s more dynamic geyser basins,” said Henry Heasler, YNP Geologist.

Yellowstone’s existing temperature sensors, which have been operational about eight years, lack the ability to transmit, making it necessary to visit sensors to retrieve their data. 

The project required unique equipment not readily available.  The radios had to be small, with unobtrusive antennas so that the equipment could be placed beneath boardwalks and within small rock piles.  The radio signal had to be strong enough so that a day’s worth of temperature data could be sent nightly to a base station up to half-a-mile away, and the equipment had to be able to withstand acid waters, steam, and sub-freezing temperatures during Yellowstone’s notorious winters.

 “We’ve tried to make the system as robust as possible,” said Jake Lowenstern, the scientist in charge of YVO.  “If an antenna fails, the loggers should be able to keep recording and hold on to their data for about a month, and then send all their information once we get out to fix the equipment.”

The equipment was purchased from Marathon Products, Inc. of San Leandro, Calif, with funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Typically, the company’s sensors are installed in refrigerated trucks and warehouses monitoring food and other perishable commodities that require controlled environments.

The temperature-sensor network is part of increased monitoring of Yellowstone by the USGS and its YVO partners at the University of Utah and Yellowstone National Park.  This summer the observatory also upgraded seismic equipment, installed a mobile webcam, and deployed water-sampling equipment in rivers around the park. 

Last month, the USGS released a document summarizing the protocols and tools that the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory will use during earthquakes, hydrothermal explosions, or other geological activity that could lead to a volcanic eruption.  Titled Protocols for Geologic Hazards Response by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, is available online. 

YVO is one of five volcano observatories run by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program to issue timely warnings of potential volcanic hazards.

For more information and Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin temperature measurements, visit the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory website.

USGS Newsroom

More information

Parameter Value Description
Magnitude mb The magnitude for the event.
Longitude ° East Decimal degrees longitude. Negative values for western longitudes.
Latitude ° North Decimal degrees latitude. Negative values for southern latitudes.
Depth km Depth of the event in kilometers.
Place Textual description of named geographic region near to the event. This may be a city name, or a Flinn-Engdahl Region name.
Time 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event occurred. UTC/GMT
Updated 1970-01-01 00:00:00 Time when the event was most recently updated. UTC/GMT
Timezone offset Timezone offset from UTC in minutes at the event epicenter.
Felt The total number of felt reports
CDI The maximum reported intensity for the event.
MMI The maximum estimated instrumental intensity for the event.
Alert Level The alert level from the PAGER earthquake impact scale. Green, Yellow, Orange or Red.
Review Status Indicates whether the event has been reviewed by a human.
Tsunami This flag is set to "1" for large events in oceanic regions and "0" otherwise. The existence or value of this flag does not indicate if a tsunami actually did or will exist.
SIG A number describing how significant the event is. Larger numbers indicate a more significant event.
Network The ID of a data contributor. Identifies the network considered to be the preferred source of information for this event.
Sources A comma-separated list of network contributors.
Number of Stations Used The total number of Number of seismic stations which reported P- and S-arrival times for this earthquake.
Horizontal Distance Horizontal distance from the epicenter to the nearest station (in degrees).
Root Mean Square sec The root-mean-square (RMS) travel time residual, in sec, using all weights.
Azimuthal Gap The largest azimuthal gap between azimuthally adjacent stations (in degrees).
Magnitude Type The method or algorithm used to calculate the preferred magnitude for the event.
Event Type Type of seismic event.
Event ID Id of event.
Event Code An identifying code assigned by, and unique from, the corresponding source for the event.
Event IDS A comma-separated list of event ids that are associated to an event.

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