U of U Keeping Eye on Yellowstone Geysers

U of U Keeping Eye on Yellowstone Geysers

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Ed Yeates ReportingThe Yellowstone Volcano Observatory continues keeping a close eye on a geyser basin in the park which has been heating up since early spring. University of Utah geologists have just finished setting up an array of equipment in the area hoping to find out what's going on underground.

In one portion of the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park waters continue boiling and heating up. With some geysers spewing onto trails the Park Service has closed the area to the public. Meanwhile, the University of Utah, which is part of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, sent scientists and equipment into the area.

Over the past two weeks, Dr. Robert Smith and his colleagues quickly installed seven seismographs and five new global positioning satellite ground stations.

Dr. Robert Smith, U of U Geophysics: "The new ones we can get down to a few millimeters, so if the ground is inflating or deflating or if it is moving laterally, we would like to be able to see that."

What's left of the ancient volcano now known as Yellowstone Park has been breathing up and down like some living creature for thousands of years.

In the 70's, bulging tilted Yellowstone Lake, flooding dry land and killing trees on one side. Over the past five years, another bulge has pushed up about three inches on the northwest side of the Norris Geyser Basin. Now part of the basin is getting hotter, killing trees and vegetation. In some places the temperature is 200 degrees and holding.

Though Smith believes a volcanic eruption is highly unlikely, hydrothermal explosions are a real possibility. The Park Service remembers too well what happened to another geyser in 1989.

Smith: "Pork Chop Geyser exploded and broke rocks the size of two or three feet in diameter. You would not have wanted to have been there."

Any seismic activity in the Yellowstone area is now transmitted to the University of Utah seismograph stations instantly, in real time. If something should happen, Smith would get an alert from the Park. No matter where he is, he can call up the data on his desk or laptop computer.

Again, Smith doesn't expect anything catastrophic. If something is happening deep down you would expect to see a flurry of seismic activity, especially since the basin is an intersection point for a number of earthquake faults. Other than boiling sounds down there, it's been deadly quiet.

Since there are so many unknowns under Yellowstone, Smith calls the Norris incident another discovery expedition.

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