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Charting Yellowstone Lake

The study also revealed a domed area with hydrothermal vents within Yellowstone Lake. The lake bottom is composed of sediment-covered lava flows. Scientist think gases accumulate in the hydrothermal system and uplift the sediments to some extent. At this time the feature is not growing. No recent temperature or chemical changes have occurred in nearby hydrothermal vents to suggest that a hydrothermal explosion is imminent.

A map outlines the profile of the lake bottom

Such explosions occur when hot water in a hydrothermal system suddenly flashes to steam, breaking the overlying rocks, and throwing them into the air. Perhaps hydrothermal explosions are triggered by changes in a feature's plumbing system, or when the system becomes sealed by a caprock of silica and the cap is suddenly cracked.

Researchers have discovered more than a dozen craters left over from large hydrothermal explosions that occurred between 3,000 to 14,000 years ago. Most of these craters sit within the Yellowstone caldera. The crater of the largest known hydrothermal explosion in the world occurred about 13,800 years ago at Mary Bay, along the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake.

A map shows the location of the Mary Bay crater on the northern shore of Lake Yellowstone

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This work is supported by

National Science Foundation    Yellowstone Park Foundation
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