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FLOWING TO THE FIREHOLE
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Born in the wilderness of Yellowstone, the Firehole River is a normal mountain
stream until it flows through three major geyser basins. By the time the river has
finished its 30 mile (48 km) run, nearly a quarter of its water comes from hydrothermal
influx and its temperature has increased by as much as 25°F (12°C).
The thermal additions change more than just the river’s temperature.
Water from hydrothermal features spends hundreds of years working its way through
underground channels, eroding and carrying along bicarbonate, chloride, arsenate,
and sodium from the rock through which it passes. From runoff in the Upper Geyser
Basin alone, the Firehole River receives an estimated 68 tons of bicarbonate and
chloride every single day.
In the 1950s, scientists attempted to estimate how much runoff entered the
Firehole River from a single hydrothermal feature, Excelsior Geyser in Midway Geyser
Basin. Their best guess was that between 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of thermal water poured
into the Firehole River every minute of every day!
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