GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

All posts tagged geologists

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.

Breaking News: Steamboat Geyser Erupts!

Categories: News, Thermal features
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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.

Cutting edge science and Yellowstone

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Every day last week I attended the American Geophysical Union annual [2012] meeting with a press pass. Along with some 25,000 researchers and others interested in research advances in the geological sciences, I attended short presentations about cutting edge research; poster sessions, where a scientist explains his or her work to individual listeners; and three press conferences or lectures on earth science-related subjects.

I learned as much as I could about three questions: What is underneath Yellowstone and how did it get there? What are microbiologists learning about the microbes that live in hot springs? How have humans been affecting the earth in the last century or so—and what should be done to reduce the damage?
It takes a while to digest all that, but in the next few weeks I will write blog posts and perhaps a new nugget about what I learned.

This time I want to write about three separate subjects that only relate to my recent [2010] trip to Yellowstone because they center on people in the park.
First, I want to publicly thank Yellowstone’s Park Historian, Lee Whittlesey. He has been encouraging to me about all my projects relating to the park and has helped me immeasurably to find what I’ve needed and to understand a great many things. I’ve gone to him with questions ever since 1995, when I began research relating to Yellowstone. This month he supplied a strong shot in the arm to the project my colleague Suzanne Cane and I have been working on for over two years, a translation of Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq’s beautifully written 1886 French book called La Terre des Merveilles or The Land of Wonders. His help and enthusiasm are propelling us forward. What an amazing guy he is!

Next I’ll mention the delight I felt when, by chance, I got to meet USGS geologists Bob (“Chris”) Christiansen and Jake Lowenstern while waiting for Fountain Geyser to erupt. These two were presenting interesting geological remarks to a small group of people that turned out to be a field trip from the group Geologists of Jackson Hole. When they were about to leave I got up the courage to introduce myself and my husband Bruno Giletti, and they were both most cordial. These are two of the most important contemporary researchers into Yellowstone-related geologic questions, and I have known about them for many years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet them.

Lastly, at Mammoth Hot Springs in previous summers I’ve been able to consult the rangers’ logbook to learn what the various springs and terraces have been doing since the last time I was there. Now, I learned, there is no longer a logbook, and, as far as the rangers at the information desk in Albright Visitor Center could tell me, no one is keeping track for the park of where there are new springs, which ones are most active in building the travertine terraces, or any other current data about Mammoth’s remarkable features. If this is so, it is really a shame. I suppose it is directly related to lack of sufficient funds to have enough park service personnel to do all the things that should be done, and this type of study is a low priority. But the geysers all over the park have their own non-governmental group called the Geyser Observation and Study Association, with some 250-300 members. What about these unique hot spring terraces? I would love to be able to help personally with reviving the data collection on thermal features at Mammoth. Maybe in the next life. . .

Supervolcano: are we ready for another caldera explosion?

Categories: Science, Thermal features
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[Update 6 Sept. 2010: Looking at this post’s title again, I realize the word “ready” is ambiguous there. We will never be ready to be inundated with hundreds or thousands of square miles of ash and lava. The hope is simply that we can be warned in time to get out of the way when it does happen. And that is the best that modern scientists can prepare us for at this time. Such forces of nature do not wait for man to figure them out.]

As I pack for my annual trip to Yellowstone, people ask me if I worry about the escaped Arizona criminals being in the area or the potential eruption of the so-called supervolcano. My answer is no to both, since the chance of running into the criminals is probably less than that of being struck by lightning, and the caldera eruption will give us ample warning, now that the equipment and organization of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory team is in place.

Predicted in our interview with Yellowstone Treasures’s geologist is the putting in place of a scientific team and equipment to detect any changes in underground activity that will precede the next caldera eruption.

You can download a USGS paper detailing the mechanisms for detecting and warning the public about “episodes of unusual geological unrest at the Yellowstone Caldera” at: This sets up an Incident Command System, explains how the various personnel and agencies will be structured and will react with each other in the case of impending danger, and how the public will be kept informed. It also outlines specific scenarios for reaction to catastrophic events.

As for me, I won’t be writing blogs in the next while but will be enjoying favorite places and friends in and around Yellowstone.

Janet Chapple’s Bio, 2009

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author Janet ChappleBorn and raised in Billings, Montana, I was the second daughter of musician parents: my mother gave piano lessons for most of her life, and my father taught piano, organ, and voice until the World War II years, when he became a teller and later an officer in a bank.

My association with Yellowstone goes back to very early childhood, when both parents worked in Old Faithful Inn in 1939 and my father worked further summers as transportation agent. I trace my love of Yellowstone Park to memories of wonderful times with my sister Joan: waiting for geysers to erupt, visiting with rangers, attending slide shows and sing-alongs in the amphitheater, playing hide-and-seek in the inn, and watching as my father assigned passengers to the big yellow tour buses.

After college at Stanford, U. of Washington, and U. of Southern California, I married Bill Chapple, who was also from Billings. He took all his degrees at Caltech in geology, later becoming a professor of structural geology at Brown University. While raising three daughters, I worked as a professional performer and teacher of cello and spent over forty years in Rhode Island.

In 1981 I lost Bill to a very rare form of cancer. In the next few years I sold my house, lived about a year and a half in a graduate dorm at Indiana University, and received my Master of Music degree in cello performance. Then in 1984 I married Bruno Giletti, a geology department colleague of Bill and a good family friend for over twenty years. This increased the count of daughters to five–and now the count of grandchildren has risen to six.

In 1995 I began research for the guidebook that became Yellowstone Treasures in 2002, and by 2000 I had retired from teaching cello and from the musical groups I played with. That’s also the year I formed my own publishing company, Granite Peak Publications.

Since all our daughters had long since left New England, Bruno and I decided to enjoy our later years in a year-round pleasant climate, and we both favored the San Francisco Bay Area for that and for its beauty and cultural attractions. So 2004 found us buying a condo in the area, choosing to be near friends Bruno had known since high school. We kept up a bi-coastal existence until late October of 2005, when we condensed our life from nine rooms in Pawtucket to five-and-a-half in Menlo Park. Then in 2010 we moved to the best retirement community anywhere around, Lake Park Retirement Center. There are three of us here (out of about 200) who are not retired. Publishing, researching, and writing about Yellowstone still occupy most of my time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.