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Esben Auken

Geophysical imaging of the Yellowstone hydrothermal plumbing system

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  • Carol A. Finn, United States Geological Survey
  • ,
  • Paul A. Bedrosian, United States Geological Survey
  • ,
  • W. Steven Holbrook, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • ,
  • Esben Auken
  • Benjamin R. Bloss, United States Geological Survey
  • ,
  • Jade Crosbie, United States Geological Survey

The nature of Yellowstone National Park's plumbing system linking deep thermal fluids to its legendary thermal features is virtually unknown. The prevailing concepts of Yellowstone hydrology and chemistry are that fluids reside in reservoirs with unknown geometries, flow laterally from distal sources and emerge at the edges of lava flows1-4. Here we present a high-resolution synoptic view of pathways of the Yellowstone hydrothermal system derived from electrical resistivity and magnetic susceptibility models of airborne geophysical data5,6. Groundwater and thermal fluids containing appreciable total dissolved solids significantly reduce resistivities of porous volcanic rocks and are differentiated by their resistivity signatures7. Clay sequences mapped in thermal areas8,9 and boreholes10 typically form at depths of less than 1,000  metres over fault-controlled thermal fluid and/or gas conduits11-14. We show that most thermal features are located above high-flux conduits along buried faults capped with clay that has low resistivity and low susceptibility. Shallow subhorizontal pathways feed groundwater into basins that mixes with thermal fluids from vertical conduits. These mixed fluids emerge at the surface, controlled by surficial permeability, and flow outwards along deeper brecciated layers. These outflows, continuing between the geyser basins, mix with local groundwater and thermal fluids to produce the observed geochemical signatures. Our high-fidelity images inform geochemical and groundwater models for hydrothermal systems worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)643-647
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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© 2022. This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply.

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