In 1872 the United States, a country that had not yet seen its first centennial, established Yellowstone as the first national park in the world. President Ulysses S. Grant signed Yellowstone into existence and a new concept was born, and with it a new way for people to preserve and protect the best of what they had, for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super-volcano on the continent. In the southwest area of the lake the West Thumb geothermal area is easily accessible to visitors. Geysers, fumeroles, and hot springs are found alongside and even in the lake. The federally funded Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 provided the most detailed and scientific descriptions of Lake Yellowstone in the pre-park era. The Hayden party, 34 men in all, launched Annie, the first boat to sail on Yellowstone Lake and began exploring the islands and shoreline. The first photographs of the lake were take by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Moran, along with the geological survey, played a prominent role in convincing the U.S. Congress to pass legislation creating Yellowstone Park. Yellowstone Lake is the foundation of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining, nearly intact, ecosystem in the Earth's Northern Temperate Zone. It provides the key ingredients to a large and complex food chain that sustains many of the animals for which Yellowstone is so famous. In 1874 the Lacey Act was passed by Congress, giving full protection to wildlife in Yellowstone National Park with the exception of wolves and coyotes. This act paved the way for future wildlife and environmental movements. From the days of the Hayden Expedition to the present Yellowstone Lake continues to be a source of rich, diverse and sometimes surprising information that is rare among the worlds great lakes. Lake Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park in all its preserved glory is like no other place on earth and must be seen and experienced in order to be believed and enjoyed.
Yellowstone Lake is a very active lake. There are kinds of geologic and biological processes going on, right now, today. So it's a significant contributor to the whole hydrothermal system in Yellowstone. It plays a very important role in the geo-ecology. These processes range from simple hydrothermal vents on the floor of Yellowstone Lake to more complex systems like hydrothermal explosion craters with numerous active hydrothermal vents. We have siliceous spires. We also have landslides that have flowed into the lake. The geology of Yellowstone Lake can be broken out into two basic domains. You have the northern two-thirds which has been influenced by volcanic and hydrothermal processes and you have the southern one-third which has been influenced by glaciation. And then the entire lake has been effected by tectonics. Yellowstone Lake has many hydrothermal features in it. Our mapping, starting in 1999 going to 2003, we were able to identify more than 650 hydrothermal vents and more than 5 active hydrothermal explosion craters. One of the most interesting discoveries we found in our Yellowstone Lake surveys was that we identified a series of structures that are in the northeastern part of the lake, that are siliceous spires. And these spires are made up of silica. They are associated with hydrothermal vents. We can see that they are located in these hydrothermal vent craters or depressions, and that these structures look like conical features that are made up of filimentous bacteria and diatoms and they are completely cemented with amorphous silica. We've determined that the ages of those spire features is about 11,000 years old. So that's about 5,000 years after the last glaciers retreated from Yellowstone Lake Basin. The one behind us here is called Indian Pond explosion crater and it is about 2900 years old - before present. It's about 800 meters in diameter. These are the events that we have a lot of concern about and have a high probablity of happening in our lifetime. Much more than a volcanic eruption. These are large hydrothermal explosion craters in Yellowstone and you can see how much larger the ones we have in Yellowstone are compared to those throughout the world. One of the studies that we would like to do in Yellowstone Lake would be to monitor these hydrothermal domes and hydrothermal systems a little more and so what we want to do is deploy several geophysical instruments such as ocean-bottom seismometers, tilt meters, chemical instruments such as PH meters, instruments that will allow us to measure the temperature of the geothermal fluids as they are coming out of the hydrothermal vents. And we plan on deploying these instruments at three major places in Yellowstone Lake and leaving them on the floor of Yellowstone Lake for a year so we can look at the various seizmic events that happen during the year. We can look at how lake level changes and effects the hydrothermal vents. And we can also look at how seasonal changes with the level lowering and rising have an influence on the hydrothermal vents. As a geologist it's vary rare that you get to see active processes in front of your eyes. The fun thing about Yellowstone Lake is that as we were mapping it, we saw these active processes happening right in front of us. Most of us geologists look at things that formed millions of years ago and we're left to thinking, what were the processes that were involved here. And so in Yellowstone Lake we have multiple geological processes operating and then we have overprinted on this a very active biological community.
John Varley: The whole concept of the BioBlitz is attributed to E.O. Wilson, the closest thing we have to a father of biodiversity conservation. The whole idea is to focus a lot of scientific attention, very broad in scope, with different types of science and direct it toward one area. And for 24 hours these scientists are going to try to enumerate all life that fits in whatever the defined area is. That's guaranteed, almost, to bring you a longer list of species for an area than was known prior to the BioBlitz. Kids: I like it. Screams. EEUUWW. Teacher: Hungry? Kids: NOOOOOOO John Varley: One of the things I expect to find in these lagoons, that we don't often find in the lake, are some different kinds of crustaceans called isopods, and I also expect to find far more insect life and probably a richer life of worms. You get into lots of different phyla when talking about the different types of worms. We've already captured one, that being the leach. All plankton has poor swimming ability and so it's captured inside the throat here and concentrated down in this bucket. So we'll bring the bucket back and unscrew it, and wash it out, and see what we've found. (splash) John Varley: Well we have creatures. (Other Participants discuss their findings.) Participant 2: That's almost a meal. Participant 3: There's a couple down here but they all look like...the scuds. John Varley: You can see a variety of life darting around in there. There are some great diochnids. There are some larger amphipods swimming around here. That's good news. Teacher: It was great to see research and science happen in a real-time fashion. My students usually get publications or things on the Internet that could be a couple months after it was already created, and the science was done. So to actually do the science in a real-time manner and have them able to see it has been a great experience. John Varley: BioBlitz has several key components that are essential to accomplish what we wanted it to accomplish. There are the scientists, they are a component that you can't do without. Stephanie McGinnis: I am a primary researcher on the eucharyotes so we are looking at all the eucharyotic plankton organisms in Yellowstone. We're basically identifying them morphologically and then we are extracting the DNA from them so that we have a known morphological identification and a known genetic identification. There's lots of disagreement about what is there and what isn't there and one of the things that's really going to help us with some of these organisms that are really hard to identify morphologically is we can hopefully genetically identify them. One of the things we're looking for is a harpacticoid copepod, which is a type of crustacean. We have found that and only one other person we know of has found that so far in the park, over the last hundred and some years. John Varley: And then there's logistics people. People who have to put together the transportation and everything associated with it, the specimins, on and on. The third component are citizen scientists. They're just really important. Citizen Scientist 1: Meeting the scientists that are doing the actual research was phenomenal. And being able to be with them in the field conducting research, and then coming back and knowing that the information that we collected is actually going to be used and be applicapable in the scientific community was probably the most important part for me. Stephanie McGinnis: Well they were just in Yellowstone collecting out of the lake you know. And so they've identified those organisms morphologically down there in the park. Now we've brought them back to the lab here at MSU and we are now extracting the DNA. Once we extract the DNA we'll run them through a polymerase change reaction, called the PCR for short, and that amplifies lots and lots of copies of the gene we want to use to actually identify that organism genetically. John Varley: That's the whole point, is knowing what diversity you're living around because you cannot conserve what you don't know is there.
Kristin Legg: Yea I think.. I think you go to the left of that tree in front of you. No, that other one...Yea. and your're at 10. Steven Bekedam: Climate change will effect us all in how we manage these landscapes. It will be slow to see it, I think, for a lot of park visitors but their perceptions will change over time. It's really our duty to explain those changes and try to appeal to the greater public, that we do have an impact on that landscape, and we can change our behaviors to lessen that effect. (music) Kristin Legg: One thing we've done is actually establish this long-term monitoring program. We've collected really good data on select vital signs of natural resources. So everything from water quality, water quantity, high elevation species, alpine environment, sagebrush habitats, vegetation, animal species, and by tracking those over time, we're going to be able to detect changes and have research scientists come in and help determine... Are those changes the result of climate? What are those changes the result of? (music and rushing water sounds) Isabel Ashton: Snowfall is generally declining. The other thing they expect to occur, and has occurred in the past, at least in the Northern Rockies, is there's more rain during the year than there is snow. That percentage or ratio of snowfall to rain has decreased. David Toma: Snowmelt feeds about 60 to 80 percent of streamflow in the western United States, so it's a very important reservoir of water for both natural resources and human use, and with climate change and the increase in temperatures, we've seen lower snowpack and earlier melting of the snowpack. So what we have is a double-whammy where we have less available moisture that's being stored and then it comes off earlier in the season than it has in the past. (Sound of a strong wind blowing) Sue Wolff: We are part of an international effort to look at change climate and alpine vegetation and diversity. We go to the top of the mountain and we just...it's really simple work, we put out quadrats or meter square plots and we record what vegetation is there and we come back every 5 years to see if it's changed. So as temperatures and things become milder in the alpine, other plants can come up into the alpine and outcompete the native species there. And that's the fear, that we won't have these gorgeous wildflower displays that really draw visitors and more than that a lot of species depend on them. Dan Reinhart: Whitebark pine is an especially ecologically important tree in the high elevation habitats, here in Yellowstone, and throughout its range and they provide forage and food for a lot of wildlife species including a lot of birds, such as the Clark's Nutcracker and black bears and grizzly bears as well. The White Pine Blister Rust is an introduced pathogen. With whitebark pine in decline managers are really sort of stepping up and trying assess what they can do to maintain whitebark pine in the landscape and maybe even restore it in areas where they have declined rapidly. We're working collaboratively throughout the entire Greater Yellowstone Area and we are selecting about 100 trees that we call plush trees. These plush trees are trees that we've determined to be resistent to White Pine Blister Rust. And then we will collect cones from those trees and we will propagate those seeds into seedlings and hopefully we'll have stock of resistent trees to Whie Pine Blister Rust. (music and the sound of dry bark being torn from a tree trunk) Isabel Ashton: Mountain Pine Beetle are native species but they're doing really well in the past couple of decades and part of that is because temperatures haven't gotten low enough, in the winter, to kill them. And so now they even think they're now going through 2 cycles a year instead of just one period of reproduction. Dan Reinhart: What climate change brings is uncertainty. We don't know what this brings. Will it change the weather patterns that may propagate White Pine Blister Rust? Does it not allow Mountain Pine Beetle to cycle down? Those are the kinds of uncertainties that we face with climate change. Sue Wolff: The sagebrush community actually supports a lot of different vegetation species as well as wildlife. We can also get a greater data set by measuring and looking at sage throughout these different parks. It allows us to look at a bigger picture on a landscape or ecosystem level. Steven Bekedam: Well sagebrush is kind of threatened all over by climate change, development, non-native plants. A lot of the sagebrush is deeper- rooted so it may survive a little bit longer but a lot of these other perennial grasses, and particulary the forbes, are not as deep-rooted, so when you don't have this big harbored water table, so to speak, and you've lost that snowpack and that water is already out of the system, then the native species are going to suffer. They're just not going to be as resilient to a changing climate. (slow music) (faster music) Paul McLaughlin: Well we can all do a lot to effect climate change as individuals and as a community. The park service itself is making attempts to be a good role model. Particulary we are looking at ways to decrease our carbon footprint by doing such things as improving the insulation in our buildings and reducing the amount of energy used for heating and cooling. We're also having a more efficient fleet of vehicles so we can decreas our fuel consumption by those vehicles. So in those ways, and other ways, the park service is trying to decrease its carbon footprint. (music) Kristin Legg: In designing the long term monitoring program the park service is really thinking about the future. We're just starting to get data now where we can detect trends in some of the vital signs of the natural resources that we're monitoring. But the idea is, that this is going to be out here for a long time... long-term monitoring... and that 50 years from now, 100 years from now we should still be in existence and we can tell then what's happened over this time, how things have changed from what we currently see on the ground now, into the future. (music)
(Sounds of footfalls on rough rock) Researcher 1: We've got some old scat here. Researcher 2: Yea. (music) Mackenzie Jeffress: We are looking at pikas as an indicator of climate change because pikas are temperature sensitive. And this is important because they're kind of the canary in the coal mine for climate change. So if we see climate change having an effect on them we can predict that it's going to have an effect on other species in the long run and this is extremely important because this could possibly even mean collapses of whole ecosystems and changes of ecosystems that we're not quite sure what those long-range impacts will be. The picas are being monitored across several different national parks and we're doing this because it's very important to, not only understand what's going on with pika populations within a park but across the different parks, across the different mountain ranges, and across the different habitat types. And so it's important to monitor pikas over time because with climate change we're predicting that the impact will get greater and greater over time. (music) On Helena training day we'll have the crews from several different parks, parks like Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon. And we'll be training them on a stardardized protocol in how to do these surveys so that we can collect the data the same way across the different parks. In this training day we'll talk about how to do surveys, how to identify pika sign, how to age it, how to collect the habitat variables such as vegetation cover and make sure that each of the crews are taking high-quality data. (birds singing) Sue Wolff: Basically we're marking our site in the field using our GPS unit. Each plot is a 12 meter radius circle. (Pike call) There's a pika. Researcher 2: He's right here. (sound of wind in the trees) So then once we sit for a few minutes, we'll start just doing a pika search, throughout the entire plot. Researcher 2: I got one. Sue Wolff: Oh cool, Yea. Oh that's a great one. This is all scat, all these little pellets.
And pika scat is...you know they're lagomorphs... like rabbits. They're not rodents. So their scat is round. We want to collect some scat samples, some pellet samplesfor the genetic portion of the project. So this is all their hay pile. I'll move that around. But this is what they eat all winter long. They all eat from these piles. (music) Mackenzie Jeffress: Pikas are especially unique and just the way they draw people to them, I think, and this potential effect of climate change. And I think this is a great opportunity to look at a species that can tell us what climate change could mean, not only for pikas, but for many species in general. (music)
Did You Know?
The 1988 fires affected 793,880 acres or 36 percent of the park. Five fires burned into the park that year from adjacent public lands. The largest, the North Fork Fire, started from a discarded cigarette. It burned more than 410,000 acres.