GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Books accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

All posts tagged geology

Janet on the north shore of the lake, 2009

While we recline in the doldrums awaiting the opening of Yellowstone Park’s roads—mostly on April 21st, when the bulk of the plowing should be done and wheeled vehicles can again reach the interior of the park—I will pass along a link about a man who is building a robot to learn what is below Yellowstone Lake and is yet to be discovered and explained by scientists. Elsewhere I learned that project leader David Lovalvo’s crowd sourcing for this project reached its goal of raising $100,000 last year.

Granted, this article appeared on the Internet a year ago, but its interest is evergreen. Geoscientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, particularly Lisa Morgan, Wayne Shanks, and Kenneth Pierce, published classic research papers on what they had learned by 2007*. But there is much more of interest lurking in the depths of the lake, and I only hope to live long enough to find out more about it.

*See the section titled “Yellowstone Lake Studies” in: Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area: U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1717.

Share Button

New England company with Yellowstone news

Categories: News, Science
Comments Off on New England company with Yellowstone news

As a forty-four year resident of Rhode Island (until 2005), I was interested to learn today that a company important to the exploration of Yellowstone Lake is now located in next-door Mystic (Connecticut) and written up in The Westerly Sun.

I’ve been following research on the wonders of the lake for many years, especially as written up by Lisa Morgan of the U.S. Geological Survey and involving the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration’s Dave Lovalvo.

A quick apology: My long silence as a blog-poster or tweeter has been due to spending all my time promoting my new historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone, and working on rewrites needed for a super fifth edition of Yellowstone Treasures.

Share Button

Robot will explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features, Through Early Yellowstone
Comments Off on Robot will explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake Mount Sheridan

Part of Yellowstone Lake with Mount Sheridan

Just coming off the deadlines for suggesting changes to the designer’s files for my next book, Through Early Yellowstone, I want to pass on a delightful link from the Yellowstone Insider. On January 27th publisher Kevin Reichard passed on some interesting news published in Jackson Hole News and Guide. Hey! Sharing good stuff is what the Web is for, isn’t it?

My interest in microorganisms stems from a Yellowstone Institute class I took with researcher Anna-Louise Reysenbach way back in July 1999. Microbial research is a fascinating but very complex subject, and in recent years I’ve been learning and writing more about it. Take a look at my website “nuggets” from July 8 and 9, 2014, on “Yellowstone Park and the Quest for the Origins of Life.”

In a nutshell, some major research bodies, such as the USGS, NOAA, and several universities, are collaborating with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration to build a research boat and diving robot that will explore the bottom of Yellowstone Lake.

If all goes as planned, starting next summer the robot will take pictures and return samples of what it finds there. This will follow up on lake bottom research reported by USGS scientist Lisa Morgan and colleagues as part of a series of articles published in 2007: “Integrated Geoscience Studies in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” USGS Professional Paper 1717.

[Revised Feb. 27, 2017—Ed.:] The Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration created a fascinating ten-minute video starring microbial ecologist Dr. Reysenbach that does not seem to be available any longer. Although the video does not show us any microbes (seen only under a microscope), it does show some views of the thermal vents on the ocean bottom, teaming with hitherto unknown life.

Photo credit: This photo from page 144 of Yellowstone Treasures, fourth edition (2013), was taken by Bruno Giletti.

Share Button

Wonderfully clear and sensible statement about the Yellowstone volcano

Categories: News, On the Web, Science
Comments Off on Wonderfully clear and sensible statement about the Yellowstone volcano

Thanks to the USGS and probably attributable to Jacob Lowenstern, this month we have a new statement from some of the world’s best authorities on the so-called Yellowstone supervolcano. They call it Five Things Most People Get Wrong About the Yellowstone Volcano, going at the problem of media sensationalism from the back side.

Lowenstern is Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and studies magma and volcanic phenomena in Yellowstone and all over the world for the United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA.

The misconceptions this article lists are:

  • When Yellowstone erupts it will be Armageddon
  • The Yellowstone magma chamber is growing
  • Yellowstone is overdue for a supereruption
  • Yellowstone is rapidly rising
  • Earthquake data indicates moving magma.

All this is well worth absorbing and passing on to any worrywarts you know! And if you want to read more of the “true facts” (what are false facts?) about supervolcanoes, the Volcano Observatory has recently updated another great page by the world’s best authorities on the subject.

Share Button

Terrorists and Supervolcanoes

Categories: On the Web, Science
Comments Off on Terrorists and Supervolcanoes

Generally, I prefer to steer clear of the media flurry every time there’s a large swarm of earthquakes or something else in the news that again brings up the subject of the Yellowstone supervolcano. But I can’t resist passing on this reaction to the recent news about a terrorist in Canada thinking that triggering the magma under Yellowstone would be a great idea.

At least the article about this that I just found ends with a sensible paragraph:

“Fortunately, the USGS agrees the likelihood of a Yellowstone volcano eruption is unlikely at this time. The volcano alert level is currently green, and seismographs detected only 178 earthquakes in the region, with the largest registering at a magnitude 1.9 on January 20, 2015. The USGS also calculates the odds against a Yellowstone eruption as 730,000 to one on an annual basis. As a comparison, the odds of a royal flush in poker is 1 in 649,740, so perhaps that’s not too comforting.”

For the best current information on the subject see this USGS page, or take a look at our own nugget about it.

Share Button

Knowing that lots of people would like to learn how geysers work, I’ll take a stab at explaining the requirements and the mechanism as simply as possible.

What is required to create a geyser and what’s happening when it erupts? All geysers have four requirements: water, heat, the right kind of rock, and a system of conduits and reservoirs (plumbing) that includes one or more constrictions to keep water and steam from flowing freely to the surface. The water pooled above such constrictions acts like a lid to maintain pressure on water below. Such constrictions differentiate geysers from the much more common hot springs. Although no one has yet been able to see exactly what this plumbing looks like, it must be something like this diagramGeyser Mechanism Figure drawn by my husband Bruno Giletti for Yellowstone Treasures. The countless different shapes the underground plumbing may take must account for the great variety in the patterns and timing of Yellowstone’s geyser eruptions—what I call their personalities.

Whether the water comes from the vent in the distinctive cone of Beehive Geyser2004_BeehiveG. or from the beautiful geyserite-ringed pool of Great Fountain Geyser, 2008_GreatFtnG the mechanism is the same.

Deep below the geyser’s vent or pool seen at the surface is a kind of rock that is rich in silica. In Yellowstone this rock, called rhyolite, was deposited in huge amounts when the caldera erupted. Silica is the primary element in the hydrous silicon dioxide (technical name for geyserite) that is deposited both along the conduits of the geyser’s water passages and all around its surface vent.

Also deep below a geyser are (1) a source of heat—in Yellowstone it is the still extremely hot volcanic rocks more than two miles below the surface—and (2) the water that has seeped into the earth from snowmelt and rain (meteoric water), and voila!—the geyser erupts.

As water gradually fills the reservoirs and is heated from below, it becomes superheated and forms steam bubbles, and the water pressure increases. Eventually, the steam pushes some water out of the vent, and steam—which requires something like a thousand times more space than water—is also released. When the pressure is thus sufficiently reduced, the steam in the conduit can blow the water column out of the vent. In many geysers, when the water supply is exhausted, the remaining steam continues for the steam phase of the eruption.

I have gleaned some ideas for this post from the sidebar my husband Bruno Giletti, a geochemist, wrote in Yellowstone Treasures (pages 88 and 89) and from T. Scott Bryan, a former ranger and also a geologist and author of books about geysers, including his Geysers: What They Are and How They Work. But as early as the mid 19th century, German scientist Eberhard von Bunsen and others already had it pretty well figured out. You can find out more about the study of the geyser mechanisms here in my September 2013 post.

Share Button

Time lines

Categories: History, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, On the Web
Comments Off on Time lines

Jack Baronett wooden bridge

“Yellowstone Jack” Baronett’s bridge over the Yellowstone River


Inside the guidebook Janet shares many anecdotes about the human history of the Yellowstone area, from prospector Jack Baronett who built a wooden toll bridge in 1871 to tourist Hazel Decker who camped in her car for 52 days to observe Steamboat Geyser. In the road logs she discusses the evidence of prehistoric peoples and the recent discoveries scientists have made at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake using a submersible robot. She compiled a time line of many of the important events in the Yellowstone area and the world in a chapter of Yellowstone Treasures called “Chronology: Yellowstone Since 1800,” which takes readers from the Lewis and Clark expedition up to the present day.

But when she and I were creating the first edition of the book in 2001 it became necessary to cut pages from the manuscript and restrict the time line to the most recent couple of hundred years of human history, even though the geological history of the region goes way back before that. Her Geological Time Line, which you can read right here on this website, extends all the way from Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago, through the time the Absaroka Range volcanoes formed 53 to 44 million years ago, to the time 12,000 years ago when glaciers last covered Yellowstone. This last episode was the Pinedale Glaciation, evident throughout the lower Lamar Canyon.

Thanks for spending the time with us,
Editor Beth

Credit: Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park.

Share Button

Muskrat in a kettle pond

Categories: Flora and Fauna
Comments Off on Muskrat in a kettle pond

Can’t resist sharing this cute picture of a muskrat in a Yellowstone kettle pond with you. What’s a kettle pond, you may ask? Here’s what the Yellowstone Treasures glossary has to say: “A pond formed in a depression caused by the ground collapsing when a buried block of glacial ice melted. Also called kettle hole.” The melting snow of the caption to this National Park Service photo is just this past winter’s. The hole is much older.

You can find out more about how glaciers reshape the landscape on the illustrated pages 311-312 of the “Geological History” chapter in the guidebook.

—Editor Beth

Living in the Anthropocene
Part II

Categories: Science
Comments Off on Living in the Anthropocene
Part II

What is the rationale for creating a whole new epoch called the Anthropocene? Is there any reason to think Earth has changed or is changing so much or so fast that we are in a span of time different from the Holocene?

terms for geological time divisionsThe geological time scale was first developed in the 19th century to divide up geological time. This time scale continues evolving as new methods of determining the dates of the rock strata allow for more and more precision. The broadest division of geological time is the era—the Archean is the oldest, and the Cenozoic the youngest. Eras are divided into periods: the Cenozoic is divided into the Paleogene, Neogene, and Quaternary. The Quaternary is currently divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (pleistos is Greek for “most”) and the Holocene (holo- is for “whole, complete”). The smallest category is the age: the Pleistocene epoch includes four ages—the Holocene, being relatively short, has not been divided into ages. The latest stratigraphic chart (updated in January 2013) [1] places the beginning of the Holocene at 11,700 years ago; that date reflects the end of the last major glacial epoch. Considering that Earth has now been found to be 4.57 billion years old, the Holocene seems a mere blink of an eye.

What has led scientists to consider declaring a new epoch? Why should this be done soon and not a few centuries or millennia from now? After studying the subject, I will try to answer my first question, but I am not sure anyone can answer the second, unless the answer is that humans may not be around long enough to care about such things.

The first half of the 19th century was an important time for people who cared about Earth and how it may have been changing before they were born. Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) helped start the discipline of paleontology, which establishes units of geological time by studying the differences in fossil remains. He also recognized as early as 1812 that some thing or things (presumably floods) had caused mass extinctions. Another Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) developed the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. Later, two English friends, geologist Charles Lyell (1797–1875) and Charles Darwin (1809–1882) had the strongest influence on scientific thought for some hundred years, both believing that changes occurred gradually and extermination of species had always been a slow process. Still, the fossil record clearly showed there were periods when flora and fauna of certain types had quite suddenly disappeared, and very different types of critters had appeared practically overnight.

By the latter part of the 20th century, stratigraphers and other geoscientists had proven that major and quite sudden mass extinctions had occurred five times between about 440 million years ago (mya) and 65 mya, and there were many less-drastic extinctions. Now geoscientists and anthropologists are pondering whether we are plunging headlong into a sixth extinction. If so, what is causing it? How fast is it happening? Is it inevitable or can we act to slow, halt, or reverse it? If we are in a new epoch, just when did it begin? These are some of the questions that must be answered.

Let’s look at evidence of how humans have “altered the course of Earth’s deep history,” as expressed by paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester, U.K., and his colleagues [2]. Take human population: huge increases have occurred in a short span of time (about the last two hundred years); with the consumption of fossil fuels, megacities have grown larger and larger; world population may reach 9 billion by 2050. In a record trapped into Antarctic ice that is almost a million years long, we can trace the recent rapid acceleration of chemical and biological effects on Earth. The increase in worldwide temperatures is causing changes that are unprecedented in their extent, severity, and speed, such as the rise of sea levels, species migration and extinction, and ocean acidity.

To name two of the chemical effects lumped together by Zalasiewicz, there are the well-known effects of excessive carbon dioxide on the atmosphere and the fact that black carbon particles, falling out of the air continually and appearing even in Arctic ice, are now classified as a major human carcinogen, in addition to their effect on climate. These were mentioned by Sybil Seltzinger of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) when she spoke at AGU.

I had been pondering these subjects for some time, but a very accessible article related to such questions fell into my hands late last month and precipitated my writing this essay. I read the two articles titled “The Lost World,” by the excellent New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert [3]. To Zalasiewicz’s list of effects on Earth traceable to human actions she adds another of his favorite subjects—rats. Rats “have followed humans to just about every corner of the globe, and it is his professional opinion that one day they will take over the earth.” Kolbert has expanded her 2009 article, “The Sixth Extinction,” into a book of the same name to be released next month.

My next post in this Anthropocene series will continue on from pointing out some ways humans have changed the Earth to whether we can counteract any of these effects and why we should care.

References

[1] The stratigraphic timescale: http://stratigraphy.org/index.php/ics-chart-timescale
[2] Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Steffen, W., and Crutzen, P. “The New World of the Anthropocene,” in Environmental Science and Technology: www.pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903118j
[3] Kolbert, E. “The Lost World,” in two issues of the New Yorker, December 16 and 23/30, 2013.

Share Button

Here’s our chance to listen to one of the foremost authorities on what’s under Yellowstone explain what is known about the volcano.

Jake Lowenstern, U.S. Geological Survey scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, will talk tomorrow evening, January 23rd, at 7 pm PST about the latest understanding of earthquakes, uplifting ground, and steam explosions in Yellowstone’s caldera.

He will also talk about the amazing geological history of Yellowstone National Park and how scientists are monitoring the area in order some day to be able to forecast eruptions.

Tune in to: online.wr.usgs.gov/calendar/live.html

Share Button