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New thermal area in Yellowstone National Park

The thermal spot is near Tern Lake.
Posted at 6:36 PM, Nov 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 20:39:03-05

Yellowstone National Park is growing a new thermal area.

The new thermal area is so deep in the backcountry it took satellites to spot the telltale signs.

Jeff Hungerford, a Yellowstone National Park geologist, said the main signs they see are heat and carbon dioxide.

But it emerged slowly, showing up in aerial and satellite photos over about 15 years.

Dr. Mike Poland, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory scientist in charge, noted, “This is a new thermal area that's really still developing.”

There is an area where trees and other plants have been killed by high temperatures and caustic chemicals boiling up from underground near Tern Lake.

Poland said, “You can see places where the trees have fallen and the underside of the tree that was facing the ground was sort of scorched.”

Poland, Hungerford, and a few others flew near the new site in a helicopter helicopter in August, then hiked in the final few miles.

“It was, it was pretty. I felt an excitement, but also kind of a wonder that here we are at this new place that really has not been described, at least by people on the ground,” said Poland.

Meaning they likely were the first people to ever walk right up and see this new feature.

“You do have the sense of like, wow, this is new, and you wonder what some of the early explorers or Native Americans must have thought when they saw these places for the first time,” Poland said.

Hungerford added, “It's also a beautiful area, so it's nice to be on those trails back there.”

Researchers say there are no water features at the new hot spot yet, but they note that there are some steam vents. Also, the ground is very hot and spongy, and in some spots it is soft enough to sink in and get burned.

The U.S. Geological Survey website has more information, including this overvew:

  • A thermal area is a contiguous geologic unit that includes one or more thermal features (like fumaroles , hot springs, or geysers) surrounded by hydrothermally altered ground, hydrothermal mineral deposits, geothermal gas emissions, heated ground, and/or a lack of vegetation. There are more than 10,000 thermal features in Yellowstone, most of which are clustered together into about 120 distinct thermal areas (like Upper Geyser Basin and Norris Geyser Basin). One such area is called the Tern Lake thermal area and is located in the central part of the Park along the northeast margin of the Sour Creek resurgent dome . It is named after nearby Tern Lake and West Tern Lake. This area is deep in Yellowstone's back county, about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the nearest trail, and about 11.2 miles (18 kilometers) from the nearest trailhead; therefore, few people have visited this site. Indeed, many of Yellowstone's thermal areas are located in remote and inaccessible areas of the Park. This is why YVO scientists use satellite-based thermal infrared remote sensing to help map the locations of thermal areas and their changes through time.