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Yellowstone Hot Spot

The North American Plate has slowly moved westward over an active magma chamber, leaving a trail of past eruptions on the landscape. The hot spot now lies beneath Yellowstone Park. (Illustration by Eric S. Taylor, WHOI Graphic Services)
Yellowstone Lake is the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 feet in North America, with more than 110 miles of shoreline. Its northern half lies in the geothermally active Yellowstone Caldera. The lake has the world’s largest collection of craters that form from hydrothermal explosions, which occur at the lake bottom. Researchers brought scientific tools normally used in the deep ocean to explore what is happening at the bottom of this deep lake. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Millions of visitors marvel at Yellowstone’s colorful pools, bubbling springs, and steaming geysers. What they may not appreciate is that these features are just a small part of a larger-scale geothermally active system that extends under the entire northern half of Yellowstone Lake. (Eric S. Taylor, WHOI Graphic Services)
The research vessel Annie sails toward the deepest part of Yellowstone Lake, a 400-foot hole that is the researchers’ primary study site. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Dave Lovalvo, president of the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, lets out a cable attached to a remotely operated vehicle called Yogi. The vehicle was named for the inquisitive picnic-basket-stealing cartoon bear that inhabited “Jellystone.” The cable tethered to the vehicle allows pilots aboard the ship to drive Yogi and watch its video feeds in real time. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
WHOI geophysicist Rob Sohn, chief scientist of the multiyear research project, takes careful notes onboard the research vessel Annie. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
In a blacked-out control room on Annie, Todd Gregory (left) operates Yogi’s manipulator arm. Dave Wright (middle) drives the vehicle, while Andy O’Brien (right) observes. Chief scientist Rob Sohn (standing) records data. The crew is using Yogi’s manipulator arm to place a probe into the lake floor to measure heat migrating up through the lake bottom. The probe will remain in the bottom for a year, measuring how the heat flow varies over time at different locations. The heat comes directly from the magma chambers that underlie Yellowstone Caldera and is more than 1,000 times hotter than the average for similar sites in North America. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The research team battled freezing rain and sleet to construct a floating drilling platform to collect long cores of sediments from the lake bottom. The team included Lisa Morgan and Pat Shanks from the U.S. Geological Survey, Sheri Fritz and Sabrina Brown from the University of Nebraska, Cathy Whitlock and Chris Schiller from Montana State University, Ryan O’Grady and Mark Shapley from the LacCore National Lacustrine Core Facility at the University of Minnesota, and Rob Sohn from WHOI. Retired Montana high school teacher Michael Baker and visiting scientist Dan Conley from Lund University in Sweden also volunteered to help with fieldwork. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
It took eight people to push a tall metal A-frame for coring operations into place on the deck of the coring vessel. The team took cores at six sites with different geological features in Yellowstone Lake to give them an unprecedented look at the postglacial geological history of the lake region, including the processes that form large hydrothermal explosion craters.

Normally winds build up over the lake in the afternoon. But on the first coring day, the lake was flat calm, and the team got right to work. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
WHOI scientist Rob Sohn helps to stabilize a corer before it is deployed through the “moon pool” in the middle of the drilling platform. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
A “core’s-eye view” up through the moon pool. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Rob Sohn wrestles with a muddy shackle after a core was successfully retrieved from the lake bottom. Many cores contained significant amounts of gas, probably carbon dioxide, that had bubbled up because of underlying geothermal activity and had become trapped in the sediments. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Ryan O’Grady and Mark Shapley from the LacCore National Lacustrine Core Facility secure corers to the deck as an afternoon thunderstorm builds over the lake. Weather is a relentless foe in September, as high winds and thunderstorms can form with little warning. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
The team works by headlamps to extract and label sediment cores on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The cores are cut into manageable sizes for transportation back to the National Lacustrine Core Facility in Minnesota, where they will be stored for future analysis. The coring team collected eight cores, at least one from each of the six sites. Several cores were 40 feet in length—12 feet longer than any previously extracted lake core. One core may have penetrated into glacial flour, the fine powder of particles that glaciers create as their rock-laden ice scrapes over bedrock. That core may provide a complete record back to the last glaciation. (Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
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