GSA Annual Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, USA - 2019

Paper No. 25-5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM


HOSSEINI, Behnaz, National Park Service, Yellowstone Center for Resources, PO Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

Yellowstone National Park’s geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots—the surface expression of hydrothermal and magmatic processes underlying the 0.63 Ma Yellowstone Caldera—draw millions of visitors to the park every year. In fact, of over 1200 visitors surveyed for Yellowstone’s Visitor Use Study in 2016, almost 80% cited hydrothermal features as an extremely important reason for visiting Yellowstone. In the same survey, 56% of visitors indicated that they learned from park staff, programs, or exhibits; of these, only 18% indicated that they learned about hydrothermal features. Although an overwhelming majority of visitors are drawn to Yellowstone by the hydrothermal features, a disparate number leave the park without learning about hydrothermal features or processes.

To apprise visitors of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory’s hydrothermal and magmatic monitoring practices, the Geology Program at the Yellowstone Center for Resources applied for and received the E-An Zen Fund for Geoscience Outreach Grant in 2018. The grant was used to purchase three FLIR C3 handheld thermal infrared cameras with accessories to engage visitors and communicate, in a tangible way, the science and hazards of Yellowstone’s hydrothermal areas. Using infrared cameras, visitors can observe many characteristics of hydrothermal areas that are not apparent in visible light, such as temperature changes in water flowing in the runoff channels of geysers and high heat flow emanating from the ground. This helps visitors better appreciate the dynamic nature of—and off-boardwalk hazards inherent in—hydrothermal areas.

Since the beginning of June 2019, the Geology Program has used the infrared cameras to engage thousands of visitors in Yellowstone’s major hydrothermal areas, including Upper Geyser Basin and Norris Geyser Basin. While researchers are working off-boardwalk in heavily-visited hydrothermal areas, curious visitors are invited by an on-boardwalk scientist to scan the area with an infrared camera. The Youth Programs Office and Resource Education and Youth Programs also use the infrared cameras to engage diverse groups of visitors, including middle- and high-school students and educators. With Yellowstone visitation exceeding four million annually since 2015, there is great potential to reach large audiences for years to come. Results presented in September will represent only a snapshot of a long-term effort to educate visitors about Yellowstone’s dynamic hydrothermal and magmatic systems using engaging, hands-on technology.