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All posts in Thermal features

Connecting a Hot Spring Microbe and a Criminal Trial

Categories: History, On the Web, Science, Thermal features
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Thinking my blog followers might like to learn about the interesting connection between a microorganism found in Yellowstone Park and a notorious criminal trial twenty years ago—recent enough that some of you will have followed that trial—I’ll repeat here something I wrote last spring for another website.
– – – – –
One thing leads to another. So let’s play Connect Initials and Years. Specifically, let’s examine how a microbe found in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) related to evidence from a sample of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in the most famous criminal trial of the late twentieth century.

1966: Indiana University professor Thomas D. Brock (TDB) and undergraduate assistant Hudson Freeze collect a tiny organism from 73ºC Mushroom Pool in YNP. The bacterium, named Thermus aquaticus (TAQ), is subsequently found to thrive in the laboratory even in boiling water and is deposited with the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC).
Brock_MushroomPl [Photo of Brock at Mushroom Pool by Janet Chapple, 1996]

1975 and 1977: Doctor Frederick Sanger of Cambridge University and colleagues publish two papers that made DNA sequencing in the lab much less laborious than it had been previously—and for which he won his second Nobel Prize (in 1980).

1983–84: Researcher Kary Mullis and team at Cetus Corporation, Emeryville, CA, buy a sample of TAQ for thirty-five dollars from the ATCC. From this they purify an enzyme known as Taq polymerase. It proves to be so stable, even when repeatedly heated and cooled, that it can be used to conduct repeated reactions and produce a large amount of DNA from a minuscule example, a technique called a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

For demonstrating this improved PCR technique, Mullis shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Cetus and later their successor company Hoffmann–LaRoche made hundreds of millions of dollars in patent rights and licenses.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 7.58.31 PM [Computer-rendered view of a random DNA double-helix by Geoff Hutchison
From Creative Commons.Freely shared with attribution; no derivatives.
from Creative Commons
]

1986–96: DNA sequencing becomes more and more important in several fields of endeavor, among them archaeological research, proof of paternity, prenatal health, the origins of species—and forensics. DNA evidence was used for the first time in a U.S. criminal court in 1987. However, note here that not until 1996 did the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announce the reliability of DNA evidence.

1994: A National Institutes of Health (NIH) website points out that “The DNA Identification Act of 1994 authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expand a pilot project into a national DNA database, the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), as a tool for solving violent crimes.” Thus, this national database had just been authorized in 1994 and was not fully functioning until 1998.

1994–95: Football star O. J. Simpson (OJS) Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 5.04.52 PM [from Wikipedia Commons, 1990]
is the defendant in a widely televised eleven-month-long trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her companion Ronald Lyle Goldman. The prosecution presented DNA evidence to the jury. However, (quoting the Crime Museum website): “A major hurdle that the prosecution team failed to overcome was the lack of knowledge and understanding regarding forensic science, specifically DNA.” And, “This inability to understand key evidence made the evidence essentially useless; even some seasoned lawyers found the scientific testimonies to be incomprehensible. It is reported that the DNA evidence showed that the chance that some of the blood found near the bodies came from anyone but Simpson was one in 170 million. The chance that blood found on Simpson’s sock could be from someone other than Nicole Brown was one in 21 billion.”
The trial verdict was Not Guilty.
At the time of this high-profile trial even such responsible entities as the NAS and the FBI were unsure or did not yet fully appreciate the implications of DNA evidence. Thus, a murderer was not convicted.

Early 2000s: Taq polymerase becomes only one among a number of DNA polymerases that are used in sequencing reactions.

2014: Twenty years after the OJS trial, would a jury decide differently?

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Announcing the Visiting Geyserland e-book

Categories: Geysers, Thermal features, Trip planning
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Janet Chapple’s new e-book of geyser basin walking tours of Yellowstone National Park is now available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Barnes & Noble, eBooks.com, and more . . .

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Morning Glory Pool—Queen of Yellowstone’s Beautiful Hot Springs

Categories: Thermal features
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If Old Faithful is historically the world’s most famous geyser, then Morning Glory Pool is surely the park’s most famous hot spring. This has been the case for almost the entire history of Yellowstone Park. But, like all Yellowstone thermal features, Morning Glory has not stayed the same.

The Grand Loop Road, that famous figure-eight-shaped main road in the park, went within a few yards of Morning Glory Pool (and also of Old Faithful Geyser) until the road’s rerouting in 1969. This proximity to Morning Glory helps explain the pool’s early popularity and also its appeal to vandals.

At the time it was named, probably in 1883, the name Morning Glory was entirely appropriate, since it was named for the common garden flower. Its shape was a perfect funnel and its water was a super-clear pale blue color. Early writers called it “a cerulean jewel” and its water “of the loveliest, clearest robin’s egg blue.” The color was due to a water temperature too high for the growth of bacteria or algae, even near the edge.

Morning Glory was surrounded by a border of scalloped geyserite as much as 10 inches wide and 5 inches high. Souvenir hunters had managed to remove every bit of this border before Jack Haynes photographed this view of the pool.
MorningGlory_Pool
From the first half of the 1900s

As more and more tourists passed by closely on the road, many of them also seemed to find it irresistible to throw things in. The pool’s only known natural eruption occurred in 1944, but in 1950 an eruption was induced in order to clean out the vent. Rangers found $86.27 in pennies, other coins, clothing that included 76 handkerchiefs and “delicate items of underclothing,” and items as large as logs, according to T. Scott Bryan’s The Geysers of Yellowstone.

By mid century, due to all the vandalism and consequent lowering of the temperature, concentric rings of bright yellow and orange bacteria and algae grew around the blue center, to the point where the name is now not really appropriate.

Since the 1970s the road has become an asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians. Although most visitors today observe the rules and have the good sense not to throw things into hot springs, cleaning out Morning Glory Pool is still needed from time to time. The temperature also may vary from natural causes, and the colors vary as a result, as you can see from pictures of the pool in successive decades taken by my friend and colleague Suzanne Cane.
SC_0195_Morning Glory Pool in 2003
2003

SC_0193_Morning Glory Pool
2013

Contemplating Morning Glory Pool has inspired me to create a list of my favorite 20 easily found hot springs in Yellowstone. They occur in numerous other areas besides Upper Geyser Basin, where Morning Glory is located. I revisit most of them every time I visit the park. You can find some of them described and pictured in five of the Nuggets on this website, such as in the Itinerary for a family trip nugget or the one about West Thumb Geyser Basin. And gorgeous Crested Pool appears on the cover of our new Visiting Geyserland e-book. I’ll write about some other favorites in the months to come—it will be a delightful memory trip for my off-season months!

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Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs

Categories: Thermal features, Trip Reports
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A thermal area in the park that attracts me strongly and that I think is underrated in general is Mammoth Hot Springs. Nineteenth-century visitors were sure it would sometime soon be turned into a spa or sanatorium, but fortunately that didn’t happen.

Before soaking in the hot pools became strictly forbidden, lots of people did it. Park hotels did not provide hot showers in those days. Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq visited in 1883 and experienced “supreme satisfaction plunging into a basin whose waters were an exquisite 30ºC [86ºF]. My bath was a meter deep. The siliceous efflorescence that lined the interior walls seemed like velvet cushions. . . .” until he noticed water in a neighboring basin suddenly rising. It happened that his clothes and towels were in that basin. “The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune,” he concluded.

Lacking a volunteer organization such as the Geyser Observation and Study Association that keeps good track of the geysers in and around the Old Faithful area and Norris, Mammoth-lovers mostly have to find out what is happening there for ourselves. Mammoth’s springs and the terraces they create are always changing. The ones I found most active this August were Grassy Spring and its very new (probably as yet unnamed) neighbor; Canary Spring; and Narrow Gauge Terrace.

In the twenty years I’ve been observing it, the hot water activity in Canary has gradually migrated from close to the hillside just below the Grand Loop Road out to the north.

Canary Spring 2009

Canary looked like this when I was there in 2009.


The terraces Canary is building are amazingly high and beautiful. Here’s what I saw on the morning of August 15th 2014:

Near the steps leading down to Canary is a good place to observe how newer springs can begin to form terraces by depositing a thin layer of calcite ice on top of still, level pools of hot water; with time tiny delicate terracettes form around the pools. Eventually these will build up to be impressive terraces, too—and the boardwalk will have to be moved again!

An area not shown on the Yellowstone Association pamphlet map at all but described in Yellowstone Treasures is my other favorite at Mammoth, the extremely active lower terrace formation at Narrow Gauge Terrace. Deeply ensconced in tall trees, the growing terraces are almost impossible to photograph well. It was very dark there in 2009, but my friend Suzanne Cane got a very good shot in June 2013.
Narrow Gauge Terrace 2009

Narrow Gauge Terrace by Suzanne Cane in 2013

This year, the active springs and color from them cover about 300 degrees of a circle. My Narrow Gauge notes: “Building a throne for itself. One large dead tree fully knocked over at south end. No sound here but the musical bubbling at several pitches from various outlets.” Magical!

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Microbes of Yellowstone beware!

Categories: News, Science, Thermal features
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The hundreds of thousands if not millions of species of microorganisms lurking in Yellowstone Park’s hot springs won’t have a chance of staying anonymous, if Eric Boyd has anything to say about it. This dynamic young scientist, whose office window looks out on the mountains south of Bozeman MT, continues the demanding and time-consuming study of these infinitesimally small living beings, with the ultimate goal of learning how life began on earth.

professor Boyd

Eric at Cinder Pool, Yellowstone

Read all about his work and that of many others in his field in the newest nuggets of Yellowstone information we’ve put up on this website.

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Just a quick update

Categories: Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Science, Thermal features
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Mushroom Pool

Mushroom Pool with Thomas Brock


I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog for the past two weeks, but I’ve been thinking about Yellowstone as much as ever. Right now I have a big writing project about microbes in Yellowstone like those found here by microbiologist Thomas Brock at Mushroom Pool. This is where he located an amazing thermophilic microorganism (heat-loving bacteria in plain English). The article I’m writing will first go on another blog, but I’ll be putting it up here soon after. It’s title may be something like: “A Great Vacation Destination is a Treasure Trove for Scientists.”

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Dynamic Earth: Yellowstone geology doesn’t stay the same

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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Yellowstone Treasures‘s geology writing strives to keep up—

If you were to contemplate nature’s many facets and how quickly things change over the seasons and the years, you might think that you can at least count on the rocks and the mountains to stay the same. Wrong! Geoscientists will tell you that even mountains have their own dynamics. But their rate of change is much slower than humans can easily grasp in their relatively short lifetimes. Nature shapes the land we live on over centuries and millennia, but the rate at which geoscientists learn about it using new methods, ideas, and equipment is constantly accelerating.

Wanting to keep track of all this activity as it pertains to Yellowstone Park for the updated fourth edition of my guidebook, I was delighted when my old friend Dr. Jo-Ann Sherwin offered to bring us up to date about Yellowstone’s geology. I’ve known Jo-Ann ever since she was an outstanding student, whose advisor during her Brown University PhD research was my first husband Bill Chapple. She was the first woman to earn a PhD in their geology department and has gone on to a long career in research and teaching. She also lives in Idaho Falls, convenient to the west side of Yellowstone.

Jo-Ann reviewed the entire book and made numerous suggestions. She also rewrote large portions of our geological history essay, “The Stories in Yellowstone’s Rocks.” Our goal is to make our explanations accurate but concise and as clear as possible without any technical writing. Here’s a short sample from our essay that draws upon recent research into the source and age of the water for the park’s thousands of geysers and hot springs (hydrothermal features):

What makes the different hydrothermal features do what they do? Basically, the great volume of groundwater is heated by very hot rocks quite near the surface at Yellowstone.
There is a very large amount of old groundwater, at least 60 but perhaps greater than 10,000 years old, just above the magma below Yellowstone. The source of this water may have been the glaciers that covered the area or rain and snow in the surrounding mountains, 12 to 45 miles (20 to 70 km) distant. Present-day rain and snowmelt seep down and mix with this old water, become warmed to the boiling point, boil into steam, expand greatly, and find a way to escape upward. Most of the features occur where faults are common, making it easy for the heated groundwater and steam to return to the surface.

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An unlikely place for an article: “An Unlikely Look at Yellowstone’s Geysers”—and Fall Closure begins soon

Categories: News, On the Web, Thermal features, Trip planning
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The website Weather.com just came up with this beautiful collection of close-ups of the amazing variety of colors found around Yellowstone’s hot springs:

http://www.weather.com/news/science/unlikely-look-yellowstones-geysers-photos-20131030

Just now you have only through this coming Sunday, November 3, to take in all the treasures of the park, since all but the Gardiner to Northeast Entrance road will be closed as of Monday for the annual fall-into-winter break. This is when the park’s natural features and the animals, including two-legged ones who work there, get a break from the pressures of visitors.

Reopening to snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and skiers begins on December 15 this year (snow accumulation permitting), except for the East Entrance Road, which will open on December 22. The winter season continues until mid March. Then there’s another break for road plowing until late April 2014.

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Breaking News: Steamboat Geyser Erupts!

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Last evening, July 31st, 2013, at 7:30 pm the tallest, most powerful geyser in twenty-first century Yellowstone National Park erupted for the first time since May 23, 2005.

The eruption was reported by one visitor and confirmed by Park Geologist Hank Heasler from an electronic monitor.

Geyser gazers will be congregating at Steamboat in Norris Geyser Basin hoping for a renewal of frequent activity from this remarkable geyser.

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Coming up next month are two events centered around the newly published translation of a really old and fascinating travelog about Yellowstone Park.

Belgian travel writer and judge Jules Leclercq visited the park when it was only eleven years old, arriving by train and horse-drawn carriage, and riding horseback in a loop around the park for ten days with a guide. In those early days, that was the only way to see these wonders that had just been set aside by an 1872 act of Congress, establishing Yellowstone as the first national park in the world.

land-of-wondersLeclercq’s book, La Terre des Merveilles, although published in French in 1886, has never before been fully translated and published in English. He was already an accomplished travel writer at age 35. As one reviewer wrote, he was “enthusiastic, energetic, observant, curious, and companionable.” In addition, he studied the existing literature about Yellowstone and included a great deal of the knowledge he gained in his book.

Leclercq describes camping near geysers, washing clothes in a bubbling hot spring, and meeting such diverse characters as local guides and tourists from the United States and Europe. He is aghast at the vandalism he sees around him and advocates for military protection of the incomparable features he describes so aptly.

With Suzanne Cane from Rhode Island, I spent about five years translating and annotating the book, which we call Yellowstone, Land of Wonders in English. Now it is available from the University of Nebraska Press and all online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Suzanne and I will be giving presentations, including showing some of the book’s engravings and related contemporary photos of Yellowstone. We’ll also read a number of our favorite excerpts from the book. Join us at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Map Room on Thursday, June 27, 8:30 pm or at the Old Faithful Inn third floor mezzanine on Saturday, June 29, at 8:00 pm. We’ll also be signing books in the Old Faithful Inn lobby on June 29 and 30 from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. See you there!

2013

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