Yellowstone volcano: Why are parts of Yellowstone DYING? 'It's been growing for 20 years'

Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful National Park, featuring picturesque mountains, lush forests and tranquil lakes. But beneath Yellowstone’s surface is a completely different picture. For the whole park is actually an active supervolcano, packed with enough power to wipe the entire continent off the map. And United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists have just made a landmark discovery about Yellowstone’s shifting geothermal features.

Beneath the surface of Yellowstone is a magma chamber approximately 45 miles across and more than five miles thick.

The geothermal areas of Yellowstone range from geysers, to hot springs, which are estimated to number 10,000.

These geothermal areas Yellowstone are the surface expression of the volcano’s deeper magmatic system, and are always changing.

And now USGS scientists have discovered an incredible example of thermal change – the emergence of an entirely new thermal area, which has occurred in the space of only two decades.

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Most of these hot spots are clustered together, and one such area, called the Tern Lake thermal area, has just attracted a lot of attention.

Scientists found the growing thermal area, which is currently around eight acres in size, by observing the quantity of dead vegetation in the vicinity.

The troubling phenomenon has been labelled a “tree kill zone” as the ground is warmer than its surroundings, causing vegetation to die.

A look through the imagery going back to the 1990s confirmed what they suspected – a growing bright patch in the middle of the forest, signalling warmth beneath the surface.

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A USGS spokesperson said: “Analysis of a Landsat-8 nighttime thermal infrared image acquired in April 2017 revealed an unexpected warm area between West Tern Lake and the previously mapped Tern Lake thermal area.

“This mysterious patch of bright pixels in the thermal infrared image did not match any previously mapped thermal areas.

“The most recent image of the Tern Lake region, from 2017, reveals a large area of dead trees and bright soil, rather like a thermal area.

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“From all these satellite and aerial images, we conclude that a new thermal area has emerged in the past 20 years!”

The USGS spokesperson added: “The recognition of the new thermal area underlines the importance of satellite thermal infrared imaging—especially images acquired at night—for mapping Yellowstone’s thermal areas.

“This is exactly the sort of behaviour we expect from Yellowstone’s dynamic hydrothermal activity, and it highlights that changes are always taking place, sometimes in remote and generally inaccessible areas of the park.”


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