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Broad and beautiful Hayden Valley is where today’s visitors are most likely to see herds of bison close to—or on—the road. The valley is named for Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, born on September 7, 1829. He played a large role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Trained as a medical doctor at Albany (NY) Medical School, Hayden served as a surgeon in the Union Army until 1865. However, he became interested in geology through collecting and studying fossils in the Dakota Territory and in 1867 began his government-supported geological surveys of the west.

During the summers of 1871, 1872, and 1878, the Hayden Survey studied the Yellowstone area systematically. The men observed and reported on many geological and other phenomena in voluminous reports. The report of Hayden’s first exploration was essential in convincing Congress to establish YNP in 1872.

Hayden’s love of geysers and hot springs reportedly could move him to tears. As an early guidebook writer observed: “He cannot compose himself in the presence of a geyser in eruption; but, losing recollection of the material world for the time, rubs his hands, shouts, and dances around the object of his admiration in a paroxysm of gleeful excitement.”

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Science Times tackles the complex Yellowstone wolf scene

Categories: On the Web, Science, Wildlife
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Brad Bulin wolf pelt 2006 In this Tuesday’s “Science Times” section of the New York Times, freelance science writer Jim Robbins explains the push-pull between the lives of Yellowstone’s wolf packs (and the scientists who study them) and the needs and requirements of hunters and ranchers in the three surrounding states.

Since 2011 Montana and Idaho have been conducting managed wolf hunts, but in Wyoming a U.S. Court of Appeals has only this March approved a wolf-hunting plan that is deemed not to endanger the survival of the species in that state.

All the controversy about wolves stems from the 1995 and ’96 introduction of gray wolves (Canis lupus irremotus) into the park (and also into Idaho) from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. Their population soared within a few years to around 150 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and scientists like Dr. Douglas Smith found, as quoted by Robbins, that “Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves”—and to study them. This is especially true because the Yellowstone wolves do not fear the thousands of eager visitors who flock there—and incidentally add money to the regional economy. The wolves are thus quite readily visible.

In the years after the introduction of wolves, neighboring ranchers were understandably distressed. Some of their cattle, sheep, and even dogs were killed; before wolf hunting was authorized some ranchers were reimbursed by nonprofit organizations for their losses. It is hoped that protection within the park, combined with limited hunting outside its borders, will provide the needed balance and keep the population of Yellowstone’s wolves to approximately one hundred, as has happened in the last few years.

Robbins tells us much more about the results of research done by Smith and his colleagues. Longevity and social hierarchy within the packs are now better understood, and observation has revealed that wise older wolves serve an important role. Dr. Smith believes that packs are matrilineal. “Males come and go . . . but Gramma, Mom, and the daughter are the ones that stick around.” Here is a link to the whole article, “The New Threat to Wolves in and around Yellowstone.”

For some earlier blog posts about wolves here at YellowstoneTreasures.com, just enter “wolves” in the search bar.

Photo is of Yellowstone Forever Institute instructor Brad Bulin showing a wolf pelt, winter 2006. Photo by Janet Chapple.

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News about Yellowstone opening weekend

Categories: News, On the Web, Science, Trip planning
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I.
Today is the first day you can drive into the park from the North or East Entrance. What’s more, those of us stuck at home can now get predictions of the daytime eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser on the NPS website.

But, if you are anything like me, you are mostly celebrating that the time for your summer trip to this wonderful park is drawing nearer. Just one thing that may give us pause as we contemplate the sights we are anticipating seeing: the crowds are likely to be amazingly large.

Here are links to a University of Montana report (2.7 MB pdf file) on 2016 crowding in that state’s two national parks and a shorter summary of the report, emphasizing Yellowstone, by Sean Reichard of YellowstoneInsider.com.

II.
If you should happen to be one of the people driving into Yellowstone this weekend, you may want to take part in tomorrow’s Earth Day Walk for Science at Old Faithful. This echoes the Washington, DC, Walk for Science. As an ever-curious non-scientist, if I lived anywhere near the park, I would certainly want to participate in that.

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The Marvels of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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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.

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New England company with Yellowstone news

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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.

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Robot will explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake

Categories: Science, Thermal features, Through Early Yellowstone
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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.

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Let’s watch geyser videos!

Categories: Geysers, Science
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While we wait for Yellowstone’s winter season to open (that happens on December 15th), let’s enjoy learning what happens inside a geyser. I thank Jeff Cross for getting me started on this, with his link to a geyser eruption in New Zealand.

This led me to a 2009 video that I had somehow missed. Brian Davis explains geyser action in a remarkable animation, for which he hand drew each frame of the animations (sort of like for early Disney movies?).

Go Giant! Go Giantess! Go Fan and Mortar! Go Steamboat! These are all wonderful but erratic and uncooperative geysers in Yellowstone—I’ve never ever seen Steamboat.

Giantess Geyser

Giantess Geyser

Our mapmaker Linton captured this eruption on September 5, 2001. It now appears on page 98 in Yellowstone Treasures. I flew home from the park that year on September 10th. You know what happened on September 11th.

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Super-creative battery use at Lamar Buffalo Ranch

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Over the past couple of decades I’ve spent some delightful weeks at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch participating in over twenty Yellowstone Institute classes. Now I’ve learned—from The Guardian’s Sustainable Business section—that solar power collected at the field campus is being stored in used hybrid batteries recovered from Toyota dealers.

Kevin Butt, chief environmental officer for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, had a vision for how old Prius batteries could be repurposed rather than recycled. In a pilot program at the Buffalo Ranch, the previously installed solar panels are now connected to a raft of batteries to supply all the power needed at the ranch.

I’m excited about this program and just wanted to share it with my blog readers!

This is the picture Toyota supplied of the project.
Toyota'sBuffaloRanch_project_ScreenShot

Go here to read the entire article.

Editor’s Note: To find out even more about the project and the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s projects to install an emission-free micro-hydro turbine and replace aging solar panels, see: “Off the Grid in the Lamar Valley.”

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Wonderfully clear and sensible statement about the Yellowstone volcano

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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.

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“The Wild Lab” of Yellowstone Park

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Science, Wildlife
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Today I’m thinking about Yellowstone’s animals, the “charismatic megafauna”—an expression that makes me smile. And I’m anticipating being able to present my first-ever guest blog, by my friend Rita Reining. Rita took part in a late season wolf-watching seminar this winter given by the Yellowstone Institute. Their next winter’s classes are not yet listed but will be up by August or September.

YT174 copy
Wolf picture from “Yellowstone Treasures,” page 351

Awaiting her article, I’ll pass on some thoughts inspired by a Science Magazine article, “Lessons from the Wild Lab,” March 20, 2015, pages 1302–7.

A video circulating on the Web a few months ago attributed recent changes in Yellowstone’s environment to the reintroduction of gray wolves, beginning in 1995. The video seemed to claim that the observed changes, all the way through the animal and plant kingdoms to the re-channeling of rivers, were due to predation on elk by wolves. However, according to writer Virginia Morell from Yellowstone, scientists disagree as to whether or not the coming of the wolves was the only trigger for observed changes “in species from elk to coyotes to willows to bison to beavers.” She cites cougars, grizzly bears, and drought as partners in the park’s transformation.

Wolves and cougars were both extirpated by the early 1930s. Coyotes, however, have been protected from 1936 on—a discrimination in the ruling that I have never understood, since these smaller canids can also prey on animals as large as deer or (very occasionally) elk and have even been known to attack humans.

In addition to the larger predators, Douglas W. Smith, the Yellowstone Wolf Project leader, who has studied wolves for more than three decades, says that smaller predators and humans should be factored in to the great depletion of the elk herd since wolves came to the park.

Here are a few megafauna statistics from Morell’s article:

Elk:
1994, more than 19,000 in the northern range of Yellowstone
2008, just over 6,000

Cougars (known in the park):
1972, almost none
1995, estimated at 15 to 20
2015, estimated at about 35, a “natural experiment,” according to Morell, “but they are
rarely seen and do not howl”

Bison:
1997 (after slaughter of 1,000), about 1,600
2004, over 4,000
2014, 4,900

Beaver colonies:
2014, 12 (but the
park website
) gives 112 beaver colonies in 2011.)*

Wolves:
1994, none
2013, 95 in the park; 34 on the northern range

Human visitors:
2014: 3.6 million.

– – – – –
*From the NPS Yellowstone website: “The increase [in beavers] has occurred throughout the park and is likely related to the resurgence in willow since the late 1990s, at least on the northern range, and possibly in the park interior.”

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