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Looking Under Yellowstone Old Faithful From The Sky

This month, the US Geological Survey (USGS) plans to fly a large, electromagnetic ring over Yellowstone’s National Park.

It’s all part of a new initiative to map the park’s underground plumbing. Scientists from the USGS, the University of Wyoming, and Denmark’s Aarhus University will study the flow of hot water through Old Faithful and Yellowstone’s many other geysers. The research could offer new insight into Yellowstone’s hydrothermal explosions, which have occurred irregularly throughout the park’s history.

“Nobody knows anything about the flow paths [of hot water],” USGS lead scientist Carol Finn said. “Does it travel down and back up? Does it travel laterally?”

Tourists view an afternoon eruption of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming on Friday, May 13, 2011.
(Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor)

Using a helicopter, researchers will fly a hoop-shaped electromagnetic system over Yellowstone for about a month. The device, which was developed in Denmark to map groundwater supplies, seeks to map Yellowstone’s hydrothermal innards without the need to dig. It works almost like an X-ray for hot water flow, able to distinguish water from rock as deep as 1,500 feet below the surface.

Hydrothermal explosions, though rare in Yellowstone, can be powerful. About 13,800 years ago, one such eruption produced a mile-wide crater at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake. By understanding the park’s hydrothermal blueprint, administrators could better plan for tourist safety and future development.

Yellowstone’s volcanic mechanisms are somewhat better known. In March, geologists used paleomagnetic data to identify the size and location of previous eruptions along the park’s most thermally-active regions. They found that a few very large blasts, rather than many smaller ones, rocked the Snake River Plain between 8 and 12 million years ago.

[vc_btn title=”Read more on mapping Old Faithful” style=”outline” color=”primary” link=”url:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.csmonitor.com%2FScience%2F2016%2F1107%2FYellowstone-s-Old-Faithful-Scientists-explore-its-plumbing|title:Read%20more%20on%20mapping%20Old%20Faithful|target:%20_blank|”][vc_message message_box_style=”3d” message_box_color=”turquoise”]By Christian Science Monitor, excerpt posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com Nov. 8, 2016[/vc_message]