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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences - Home Yellowstone in Winter

2010 Q & A

January 17, 2010

What type of snow is in Yellowstone: powder, wet/slushy, or snow with an ice top? Can you build a snowman with it or make a good snowball, and can children go sledding in the park?

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

While we were in Yellowstone, we found the snow to be too powdery to make snowmen or snowballs, but perfect for other activities. We made snow angels, did “snow gymnastics” (jumping off benches into snow), slid down hills without sleds and went snowshoeing. We didn't see any children sledding, but saw a number of cross-country skiers enjoying the trails.

How do geysers erupt and what is a thermal basin?

5th grade, Grady Brown Elementary, Orange Co.

Think of the area under the Earth’s crust as a plumbing system with pipes transporting water. The water is heated by the magma chamber and is under great pressure. As the superheated water rises towards the surface, it emerges as a hot spring. If there is a “kink” in the “pipe” (i.e. a constriction that prevents the water from flowing freely to the surface), pressure builds and is then released as a geyser. A thermal basin is a place where there is a concentration of thermal features, usually located in a low place, where water can more easily reach the surface.

How does water get in hot springs? What about the mudpots? What makes them bubble?

Zak & Marissa, Grady Brown Elementary, Orange Co.

Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Water from snow and rain seeps into the earth where it is superheated by the magma chamber beneath. Gases escaping from below create the bubbles in hot springs and mudpots. The bubbles are not there because the water or mud is boiling — the temperatures are lower than the boiling point.

How hot are the hot springs?

Austin, Grady Brown Elementary, Orange Co.

Hot springs vary in temperature. Using an infrared thermometer, we took readings at several hot springs ranging from 140–185°F. As an example, Chinese Spring near Old Faithful was documented at 175°F.

Does your spit freeze before it hits the ground and did you have "snotcicles"?

Mr. Potter’s 4th grade, Nags Head Elementary, Dare Co.

Temperatures have been warmer than usual while we’ve been here. Even in the mornings, when temperatures were in the teens, our spit did not freeze! While on early morning hikes we did experience runny noses and our nostrils did feel a little crunchy on the inside, but our snot did not freeze. Perhaps our answer would have been different if we had been here two weeks ago when temperatures were -35°F in some areas of the park.


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