Life thrives under Yellowstone’s bleach-white sinters in hydrothermal areas

Yellowstone Caldera Chronicles is a weekly column written by scientists and collaborators of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. This week’s contribution is from Jeff Havig and professor Trinity Hamilton, researchers in Plant and Microbial Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

Extensive silica sinter breccia field along the Imperial Meadows Trail in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park looking southwest towards Twin Buttes. The inset image shows a place where a passing hiker’s footstep brushed away the white surface sinter, revealing bright green phototrophic microorganisms underneath.

Jeff Having, University of Minnesota

As one walks along the boardwalks in one of the many hydrothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park, there is a feast for the senses — the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, the blasting spray of geysers, the bubbling and boiling water in hot springs, the hiss of gas escaping fumaroles, the low thumping of mud pots, and the dazzlingly bright light reflected from white siliceous sinters. Many find sunglasses a necessity to even attempt to open one’s eyes while walking through these regions

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