The Hydrothermal Dynamics of Yellowstone LAKE (HD-YLAKE) project seeks to understand how earthquakes, volcanic processes, and climate affect the hydrothermal system located beneath Yellowstone Lake. The northern half of Yellowstone Lake lies inside the Yellowstone volcanic caldera, and hosts more than 250 hydrothermal vents and dozens of explosion craters that are hidden from view on the lake floor. Though difficult to access, this hydrothermal system provides an ideal natural laboratory to study cause-and-effect relationships between tectonic, magmatic, climatic, and hydrothermal processes because it is unusually sensitive to perturbations.
With major funding from the National Science Foundation (Integrated Earth Systems program) and major support from the US Geological Survey (Yellowstone Volcano Observatory), the HD-YLAKE project uses novel techniques and instrumentation to study the lake floor vents. Our research activities include components of geochemistry, seismology, geology, geodesy, heat flow, micropaleontology, limnology, paleoclimatology, statistics, analytical modeling, and numerical modeling, and our multi-disciplinary team includes investigators from more than 10 different institutions and organizations inside the US and France.
Hydrothermal systems are generated by a complex set of dynamic processes that transport and redistribute heat and mass within and through the Earth’s crust (Fig 1). Continental hydrothermal systems are relevant to our society because they are a primary source of economically important metal deposits, provide geothermal resources, and support exotic, chemosynthetic ecosystems that are believed to be similar to the earliest life forms on Earth.
The HD-YLAKE project seeks to understand the inter-relationships between the driving forces behind hydrothermal circulation: magmatism, tectonism, and environmental forcing, through a combination of field studies, data analysis, and modeling (Fig 2).
The project is sited in the northern half of Yellowstone Lake, which hosts one of three major thermal basins in Yellowstone National Park. While most of the thermal activity in Yellowstone discharges into pools, fumaroles, and geysers that can be observed on the ground surface, the system beneath the lake discharges through a series of vents and fissures onto the lake floor, where it is hidden from sight. This thermal system is particularly sensitive to perturbations, making it an ideal location for studying the cause-and-effect relationships between magmatic, tectonic, and environmental activity with hydrothermal circulation. The extreme sensitivity of the system to perturbations is evidenced by the fact that the northern part of Yellowstone Lake hosts the largest known hydrothermal explosion craters in the world, which are generated when the pore pressure in a system suddenly drops, causing catastrophic vapor explosions that can excavate large volumes of rock and fluid.
The HD-YLAKE project brings technology developed for studying hydrothermal processes in the deep-sea to Yellowstone Lake, allowing us to gain unprecedented insight into how the hydrothermal system responds to forcing. The project will feature 3 consecutive field seasons from 2016-2018, during which we will monitor a set of hydrothermal vents on the lake floor with a variety of geophysical and geochemical instrumentation, and take a set of 6 piston cores from key sites. The monitoring data will provide detailed information about how the modern system responds to perturbations, and the cores will allow us to understand how the system has responded to major events throughout the lake’s post-glacial history.
Click here to read the National Science Foundation project proposal summary.
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