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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Home Yellowstone in Winter

2010 Q & A

January 16, 2010

How often does Old Faithful erupt?

Sam, Chestnut Grove Middle, Stokes Co.

In the 1940s, Old Faithful erupted about every hour. However, things like earthquakes (which are common in the Yellowstone area) can affect the “plumbing system” of the geyser (the plumbing system is the cracks and fissures in the underlying rock through which the hot water flows). Old Faithful currently erupts about every 90 minutes after a longer eruption (~4 minutes), or every 60 minutes after a shorter eruption (~2 minutes).

Is the ground warm near the geysers?

Megan, Brawley Middle, Iredell Co.

Yes, the ground is warmer near many of the geysers as was evidenced by lack of snow on the ground. Near Old Faithful, next to one of the boardwalks, we used an infrared thermometer to measure the ground temperature, which was 95°F! Near a different geyser, we measured the temperature of a bison pie and it registered 17°F. We guessed that the pie was too far from the geyser to stay warm.

Do any of the thermal features freeze over in the winter?

Mrs. Winn’s 3rd grade, Pinnacle Elementary, Rutherford Co.

No, the thermal features do not freeze in winter. They are fed by groundwater that is heated by a magma chamber, which is relatively close to the surface at about 3 to 8 miles deep. Groundwater heated in this manner is not affected by the weather at the surface.

How can bacteria live in hot springs?

Chris, Grady Brown Elementary, Orange Co.

Bacteria that live in hot springs have special adaptations which allow them to survive the high temperatures and other harsh conditions associated with hot springs. Bacteria are not the only organisms that can live in hot springs; algae and archaea can also be found in these extreme habitats. Archaea are thought to be related to the first life forms on Earth. Scientists are constantly discovering new species of microorganisms that live in the harsh conditions of hot springs. They estimate that 90% of these organisms have yet to be named. Studying these primitive life forms may give us clues in how to search for life on other planets!


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