Journey To The Center Of Geyserland
Photograph - Photography
Belgian Pool in Yellowstone National Park.
With over 10,000 geothermal features including hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and geysers, Yellowstone National Park provides vast habitats for a wide variety of thermotolerant and thermophilic organisms. Yellowstone's geologic setting serves as the driving force behind its numerous geothermal features.
The center of Yellowstone is a caldera which covers a large portion of the central area of the park. Volcanic activity below the caldera and the surrounding area releases tremendous heat to drive the hot springs, geysers, and other features. Groundwater from snow melt and other precipitation in the greater Yellowstone area is heated by molten rock below the surface. Once heated, the water finds a path through cracks and fissures of lava flows to the surface, where it emerges in geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles.
Microscopic life thrives in Yellowstone's geothermal features. Many thermophiles take up residence in the extremely hot pools of water or colonize the sometimes slightly cooler runoff channels of these features. Thermophilic communities form and grow in geothermal features in a number of ways. Some species will form long, flexible structures called streamers in the fast-flowing water of runoff channels. Certain thermophilic species can also form mats or layers of archaeal and bacterial communities that are adapted to specific temperature and light conditions within the mat. Thermophlic bacteria and archaea are often brightly colored by photosynthetic pigments (chlorophylls or carotenoids) and show distinct zonations according to their specific temperature tolerances.
In addition to their extremely high temperatures, many of Yellowstone's geothermal features exhibit other environmental extremes such as extremely acidic or alkaline waters, or extremely high sulfur or calcium carbonate content. These geothermal areas which vary from site to site contain one of the planet's greatest concentrations of thermophilic biological diversity, including many species that have yet to be identified.
October 8th, 2012
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