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Integrated Geoscience Studies of the Greater Yellowstone Area

Photo of geyser erupting.Yellowstone National Park (YNP), with its spectacular hydrothermal systems, represents active epithermal mineralization processes. Details of the inactive and currently active hydrothermal systems that symbolize YNP and their relation to magmatic activity, caldera development, active faulting, fluid flow, incipient ore-forming processes, impacts on wildlife and plants, and climate are poorly known. Additionally, the interrelationship and timing of seismicity and caldera inflation/deflation cycles is not well understood. Active hydrothermal vents, the existence of siliceous spires, hydrothermal explosion craters, and domal features, and young, newly identified faults in Yellowstone Lake and older, post-glacial, hydrothermal systems exposed throughout the Park offer excellent opportunities to understand the interrelationships among these processes. Further, hydrothermal vents may impact aquatic life by affecting nutrient and elemental cycles and also may pose potential geologic hazards. Impacts of the geologic environment on plant and animal habitats —including the effects of mine waste and metal-rich geothermal waters that may enter the food chain of mammals— also are poorly known because of the paucity of detailed geologic, geochemical and mineralogical information. Baselines of various elements (particularly heavy metals) are needed to evaluate the environmental chemical health. Geophysical, geologic and geochemical studies of the Yellowstone caldera yielded improved understanding of the life cycle and environment of epithermal mineralization processes and environmental impacts of mineralized and hydrothermal areas.

Project Objectives

The application of scientific studies to improved stewardship of the unique natural resources of Yellowstone is a high-profile Department of the Interior (DOI) initiative. The National Park Service (NPS) is interested in such data to enable effective resource management, protect park visitors from geologic hazards, and better educate the public on geologic processes and resources. This project provided baseline geophysical and geochemical data for the following purposes:

  1. assessment of the crustal structure and composition of the Park, its relationship to the Yellowstone caldera, and locations of previously and currently active hydrothermal systems;
  2. assessment of the effects of past mining in the area north of the Park near Cooke City; and
  3. determination of whether potentially toxic elements are due to anthropogenic causes or natural lake bottom or subaerial geothermal influences, and if these toxic elements are entering the micro- and macro-faunal food chains.

The project also provided detailed information on the geologic and hydrologic environment of YNP and information on potential hazards. The USGS role was to transfer and apply USGS-developed technologies and to partner and network with academia and other agencies to disseminate scientific information to citizens, public interest groups, and the media. This showcased USGS data and information and demonstrated the relevance of earth sciences in the stewardship of federal lands. Data obtained from this project compared and contrasted detailed geophysical, geologic, and geochemical data currently available for similar systems in the Yellowstone-Snake River Plain (Y-SRP) volcanotectonic province. The origin of this unique, 17-Ma province has been attributed to a thermal plume which may have risen from the core-mantle boundary, a region believed to be high in gold and gold-related siderophile elements.

Project Contact

Lisa Morgan
Phone: 303-273-8646


Morgan, L.A., ed., 2007, Integrated geoscience studies in the greater Yellowstone area—Volcanic, tectonic, and hydrothermal processes in the Yellowstone geoecosystem: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1717, 532 p.

Morgan, L.A., Shanks, W.C., Lee, G.K., and Webring, M.W., 2007, Bathymetry and geology of the floor of Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 2973, 2 sheets.

Other products are listed according to task:

Crustal structure and composition of Yellowstone National Park: relation of crustal structures to geology, hydrothermal alteration, and seismic activity

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Mineralogical and biologic mapping of parts of Yellowstone National Park

Images of study flight lines:
(Flight line map, 80k gif)
(larger Flight line map, 205k gif):

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Geochemistry, biochemistry, and stable isotope systematics of sublacustrine hydrothermal vents in Yellowstone Lake: A modern hot spring gold-depositing environment?

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Baseline geochemistry of rocks, stream sediments, and waters in the Greater Yellowstone Area, ID, MT, and WY

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Mapping, chronology, and geochemistry of hydrothermal explosion deposits in Yellowstone National Park

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Stable isotope studies of environmental influences on grizzly bear habitat

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Bathymetric, seismic, and magnetic surveys of Yellowstone Lake

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Volcanic and geothermal hazard assessment of Yellowstone National Park

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Related Links

National Park Service Yellowstone Page Yellowstone Page

Mineral Resources Program
Eastern Central GMEG Alaska Minerals Information Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Spatial Data

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