Yellowstone Hot Springs

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Yellowstone Hot Springs

What are hot springs?

Hot springs are geothermal springs that are substantially higher in temperature than the air temperature of the surrounding region. [1]

Creation of Hot Springs


Where is Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is a U.S. National Park located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It is also America's first national park; and is a home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world's most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. [2]

Creation of Yellowstone Hot Springs


Adjacent Communities


What Microbes Live in Yellowstone Hot Springs?


Yellowstone Hot Spring Regions

Lower Geyser Basin
Mushroom Springs
Octopus Springs
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin (Norris Basin) is located north from the Yellowstone caldera and between the Hebgen Lake and Mammoth Springs. This location in Yellowstone can be broken down into three main areas called the Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and One Hundred Springs Plain. Norris Basin is better known for the geysers it is home which includes Steamboat Geyser, the largest active geyser in the world, and Echinus. To many scientists, researchers, and tourists that visit Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin is considered one of the most interesting and diverse regions. This is attributed to the fact that the Basin contains a variety of hot spots and thermal activity in the form of hot springs, geysers, and mud volcanoes, and is one of the few regions in Yellowstone that undergoes drastic geographical changes. One of the noteworthy changes observed is when a hot spring transforms into a geyser or a geyser changes into a hot spring.
Besides the abundance of geysers, Norris Basin also consists of hot springs that are inhabited by various microbes. The groups of hot springs that exist in this region are mostly acidic (between pH 2 and 3) with the temperature of each individual hot spring varying across the region. The microbes that inhabit acidic environments (including the hot springs here) and have a mode of survival in low pH are collectively called acidophiles. Some of the hot springs that are home to these microbes which have been characterized include Green Dragon Springs and Beowulf Springs. The best characterized microbe known to be abundant in Norris Basin is the thermophile Sulfolobus known for oxidizing hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid at high temperature and acidic pH.
Green Dragon Springs
This hot spring is located in the One Hundred Springs Plain of Norris Geyser Basin. Dragon Springs has been well characterized as a near boiling acid-sulfate-chloride spring due to its high chemical composition of sulfate and chloride. The spring’s pH is about 3 with the temperature ranging from 66 to 73 degrees celsius. Other components of the hot spring include various organic carbon sources, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), Iron (II), As (III), and an abundance of elemental sulfur. Due to the temperature, pH, and available energy sources, microbes living in Dragon Springs (as well as other hot springs with similar conditions) have acquired the ability to utilize available elements or ions for energy. Some of the microbes recently identified include two Crenarchaeas (phylum within the domain Archaea), chemo-organotrophes that uses elemental sulfur for energy, and an new class of chemolithotrophic microbes that oxidize As(III) to As(V) for energy.
Beowulf Springs
This spring is located not too far from Green Dragon Springs in the One Hundred Springs Plain of Norris Geyser Basin, YNP. The specific conditions for Beowulf Springs is also similar to Green Dragon Springs and consists of a temperature near 70°C and pH of 3.2. Beowulf Springs is also considered and acid-sulfate-chloride geothermal spring like many other springs in Norris Geyser Basin. While Green Dragon Springs is best characterized for its elemental sulfur, the Fe(III) oxide (Hydrous Ferric Oxide) microbial mats that exist in this spring is best characterized. The Fe(III) oxide mats have been observed to have thermophilic crenarchaea which have the capability of oxidizing iron. Besides iron metabolism, like many other hot springs in Norris Geyser Basin, other sources like sulfate are used as an energy source. (Kozubal et al.)
Mammoth Hot Springs
Bath Lake

Hot Springs of Other Countries

Situated on the fault between the North American and European plates, Iceland is volcanically and geologically active with numerous geothermal features, such as hot springs, mud pots, geysers, and fumaroles. Geothermal hot springs in Iceland are divided into high temperature fields and low temperature fields. High temperature areas, which are only found on the active volcanic rift zones, have temperatures of at least 150°C with a heat source of magma chamber. The low temperature fields, found in the vicinity of Reykjavik, have temperatures of less than 150°C at a depth of one kilometer. These varying features provide habitats for different groups of thermophilic life. Some famous hot springs in Iceland include the one in Grindavik, and Europe’s highest flow rate hot spring Deildartunguhver, which has a flow rate of 180 liters/second emerging at 97°C. Some of the water is used for heating as energy sources.

A volcanically active island country, Japan has approximately 150 hot springs (onsen) with 14000 individual springs. The hot springs are broken down by different temperature ranges: less than 25°C, 25-34°C, 34-42°C, and higher than 42°C, and are called rai sen, bi on sen, on sen, and kou on sen, respectively. pH value of hot springs differ from place to place. The natural acidic hot springs have pH values of less than 5. For most of the onsen, pH ranges from 5 to 8. In contrast with Yellowstone hot springs, Japanese hot springs are mainly places to relax and are considered to have various medical effects. Different minerals or chemicals in onsen’s water have different therapeutic uses. For example, the carbonate springs, which haves less than 1 gram of radical carbon and other mineral elements in each liter, are good for heart disease, blood circulation disorders, neurological disorders, and female disorders. Simple springs, which have water temperature higher than 25°C, are thought to be good for neuralgia, rheumatism and long term rehabilitations. Some of the popular springs in Japan are Kusatsu Onsen, Hakone, Kamuiwakka Falls, and Beppu.

Unique Facts

Current Research


[1] "hot spring." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Aug. 2008.

[2] Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service). 01 Aug. 2008. National Park Service. 26 Aug. 2008.

Boyd, E. S., Jackson, R. A., Encarnacion, G., Zahn, J.A., Beard, T., Leavitt, W. D., Pi, Y., Zhang, C. L., Pearson, A., and Geesey G. G. Isolation. Characterization, and Ecology of Sulfur-Respiring Crenarchaea Inhabiting Acid-Sulfate-Chloride-Containing Geothermal Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Appl. Environmental Microbiol. October 15, 2007; 73(20): 6669 - 6677
D'Imperio, S., Lehr, C. R., Breary, M., McDermott, T. R. Autecology of an Arsenite Chemolithotroph: Sulfide Constraints on Function and Distribution in a Geothermal Spring Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2007 73: 7067-7074
Kozubal, M., Macur, R. E., Korf, S., Taylor, W. P., Ackerman, G. G., Nagy, A., Inskeep, W. P. Isolation and Distribution of a Novel Iron-Oxidizing Crenarchaeon from Acidic Geothermal Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2007 0: AEM.01200-07
White, D. E., Hutchinson, R. A. & Keith, T. E. C. The geology and remarkable thermal activity of Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. US Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 1456, 1–84 (1988)

Edited by [Yu-Chen Chiu, Ngoc Dinh, Jenny Lee, Christina Pham, Lucas Puttock, Naon Shin], students of Rachel Larsen