Dynamics of the Yellowstone hydrothermal system



The Yellowstone Plateau Volcanic Field is characterized by extensive seismicity, episodes of uplift and subsidence, and a hydrothermal system that comprises more than 10,000 thermal features, including geysers, fumaroles, mud pots, thermal springs, and hydrothermal explosion craters. The diverse chemical and isotopic compositions of waters and gases derive from mantle, crustal, and meteoric sources and extensive water-gas-rock interaction at variable pressures and temperatures. The thermal features are host to all domains of life that utilize diverse inorganic sources of energy for metabolism. The unique and exceptional features of the hydrothermal system have attracted numerous researchers to Yellowstone beginning with the Washburn and Hayden expeditions in the 1870s. Since a seminal review published a quarter of a century ago, research in many fields has greatly advanced our understanding of the many coupled processes operating in and on the hydrothermal system. Specific advances include more refined geophysical images of the magmatic system, better constraints on the time scale of magmatic processes, characterization of fluid sources and water-rock interactions, quantitative estimates of heat and magmatic volatile fluxes, discovering and quantifying the role of thermophile microorganisms in the geochemical cycle, defining the chronology of hydrothermal explosions and their relation to glacial cycles, defining possible links between hydrothermal activity, deformation, and seismicity; quantifying geyser dynamics; and the discovery of extensive hydrothermal activity in Yellowstone Lake. Discussion of these many advances forms the basis of this review.