Geology and Thermal History of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
By Keith E. Bargar
Water moving along the Norris-Mammoth fault zone is heated by partly molten magma and enriched in calcium and bicarbonate. Upon reaching Mammoth this thermal water (temperature about 73°C) moves up through the old terrace deposits along preexisting vertical linear planes of weakness. As the water reaches the surface, pressure is released, carbon dioxide escapes as a gas, and bicarbonate in the water is partitioned into more carbon dioxide and carbonate; the carbonate then combines with calcium to precipitate calcium carbonate, forming travertine. The travertine usually precipitates rapidly from solution and is lightweight and porous; however, dense travertine, such as is found in core from the 113-m research drill hole Y10 located on one of the upper terraces, forms beneath the surface by deposition in the pore spaces of older deposits.
The terraces abound with unusual hot-spring deposits such as terracettes, cones, and fissure ridges. Semicircular ledges (ranging in width from about 0.3 m to as much as 2.5 m), called terracettes, formed by deposition of travertine around slowly rising pools. Complex steplike arrangements of terracettes have developed along runoff channels of some hot springs. A few hot springs have deposited cone-shaped mounds, most of which reach heights of 1-2 m before becoming dormant. However, one long-inactive cone named Liberty Cap attained a height of about 14 m. Fissure ridges are linear mounds of travertine deposited from numerous hot-spring vents along a medial fracture zone. The ridges range in height from about 1 to 6 m and in length from a few meters to nearly 300 m; width at the base of a ridge is equal to or greater than its height. In some places, such as along the northern border of Main Terrace, water from new hot-spring activity becomes ponded behind fissure-ridge barriers or dams and deposits travertine that eventually forms large flat terraces.
Last Updated: 20-Nov-2007