Geology and Thermal History of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Bulletin 1444




Mammoth Hot Springs, located about 8 km inside the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, consists of nearly 100 hot springs scattered over a score of steplike travertine terraces. The travertine deposits range in age from late Pleistocene to the present. Sporadic records of hot-spring activity suggest that most of the current major springs have been intermittently active since at least 1871. 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 Y-10 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.

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Geology and Thermal History of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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U.S. Geological Survey
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U.S. Geological Survey
Report: vii, 55 p.; Plate