Caldera Chronicles: Volcanoes Observatory 2021 Field Season Sinks | Untamed Montana
Chronicles of the Yellowstone Caldera is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week’s contribution is from Michael Poland, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey and scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.
Last week some of the first fieldwork of the year by scientists at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in Yellowstone National Park was organized. The opening of the 2021 field season provides an opportunity to preview YVO’s plans for the next few months before the snow begins to pile up again and the field season ends in November.
Over the past few days, geophysicists have installed around fifteen semi-permanent GPS stations around the park. These are unobtrusive sites that run on battery power with a small solar panel but are not telemetry so the data cannot be downloaded over the radio. For the past 14 years, the stations have been set up every May and retrieved every October before being snowed in, and the data uploaded and processed upon return to the office. The data is not useful for real-time monitoring, but it increases the density of the existing continuous GPS network and can help scientists better understand processes such as past uplift episodes at Norris Geyser Basin.
The Norris temperature network also needed maintenance. These nine sites broadcast temperature data from a number of features of the Norris Geyser Basin, such as Steamboat Geyser, providing clues as to when geyser eruptions or thermal disturbances occur. The data is available on the monitoring pages of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Each station is powered by batteries that need to be changed every one to two years, and temperature probes and data loggers that failed during the harsh winter months need to be replaced. The work done over the past week will ensure that the network will continue to operate throughout the summer.
A number of GPS and continuous seismic monitoring stations will be visited in the coming months for repairs and upgrades. For example, some seismometers need maintenance to solve mechanical problems that arose during the winter. In addition, new radio equipment is planned for installation on Sawtell Peak and Mount Washburn in order to guarantee the redundancy of the communication network in the event of failure of one of the relay stations during the winter, when access to perform repairs is difficult.
Seismologists also plan to deploy temporary stations around the Norris Geyser Basin, including Steamboat Geyser, to keep up with recent work that has used seismicity to map the plumbing systems of geysers in the area.
The YVO gas geochemistry team will recover a vortex covariance system that has been operating since 2018 near the Norris Geyser basin. This system saves heat flux and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but it malfunctioned at the end of 2020, and components must be refurbished before the system can be redeployed in 2022. In addition to Two years of operation near Norris, the system was able to characterize remarkably consistent background rates of CO2 emissions from this area.
The team will also deploy a Multi-GAS system near the Mud volcano this summer. The Multi-GAS instrument is capable of measuring several types of volcanic gases, so its deployment in the Mud volcano region should prove interesting, given that the location has experienced past fluctuations in gas emissions.
Geologists will pursue a wide range of studies of the dynamic volcanism of Yellowstone. A major effort to map and age the hydrothermal blast craters in Lower Geyser Basin began in 2020 and will continue through next summer, as will efforts to more accurately determine the age of the lava flows. rhyolite lava that has erupted since the formation of the Yellowstone Caldera.
The post-glacial history of the Yellowstone region will also be further explored, particularly some of the hydrothermal vent sites on the north side of Yellowstone Lake, and efforts to catalog all of the hydrothermal features of the park will also continue.
Finally, geologists hope to complete an update of the geological map of Yellowstone by field checking a few areas of uncertainty remaining in the mapping. The map should be ready for presentation in time for Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary in 2022.
Summer in Yellowstone is always a busy time for geological surveys – an entire year of work needs to be packed into a few precious months of fine weather and snow-free conditions. And fieldwork is now underway for 2021. We’ll take stock of our progress this fall, as the snow is back in earnest and YVO wraps up what promises to be another exciting and productive summer.