Yellowstone Geochemistry Photo Gallery

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Erupting Yellowstone Geyser

The geysers of Yellowstone are among the park's most spectacular geothermal features.
The cone of this erupting geyser consists of minerals that have built up over time. Red and orange colors come from iron oxides. White is from deposited limestone (calcium carbonate). Sulfur deposits form the yellow bands. Anne Helmenstine

Geochemical Features of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park contains many fascinating and beautiful geothermal features. Learn about the geochemistry of the park and view the spectacular scenery resulting from the extraordinary geysers and hot springs.

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Yellowstone Hot Spring

The hot springs found throughout Yellowstone National Park occur in a rainbow of colors.
The hot springs found throughout Yellowstone National Park occur in a rainbow of colors. The water is blue, which may be deepened by a reflection from the sky above, darkened by iron deposits on the rock, or lightened by white calcium carbonate deposits. Anne Helmenstine
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Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace

The beautiful mineral terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs are travertine.
The beautiful mineral terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs are travertine, a form of limestone (calcium carbonate) that precipitates from hot springs. Anne Helmenstine

Travertine forms quickly as supersaturated alkaline waters emerge into air. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which lowers the pH of the water, inducing precipitation of the calcium carbonate.

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New Mammoth Terrace

The geothermal fetures at Yellowstone National Park change their appearance on a daily basis.
Some geothermal features require hundred or even thousands of years to form, but the terraces at the Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park change their appearance on a daily basis. Anne Helmenstine

This is the newest terrace at the Mammoth Hot Springs. Because the precipitation of minerals from the saturated water takes place so rapidly, geothermal features can reach great size practically overnight in Yellowstone.

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Green Yellowstone Waterfall

Water takes many colors in Yellowstone National Park.
The water in this waterfall may be green due to the presence of green algae living in the water or it may take its coloration from the presence of yellow sulfur in the water, which would cause usual blue water to appear green. Anne Helmenstine

Water takes many colors in Yellowstone National Park.

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone displays colored bands of many minerals.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone displays colored bands of many minerals. The canyon formed as a result of erosion rather than glaciation, though both processes have occurred in the park. Anne Helmenstine

The depth of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon is 800 to 1,200 ft. with a width if 1,500 to 4,000 ft. The Canyon is only 10,000 to 14,000 years old.

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Yellowstone Terrace Colors

The white terraces are calcium carbonate, while reddish and brown colors indicate iron oxides.
The white terraces at Yellowstone are calcium carbonate, while reddish and brown colors can indicate the presence of iron oxides. Anne Helmenstine

The color of the terrace reflects the chemical composition of the limestone that was dissolved by the hot geothermal water and the nature of the soil through which the water passed.

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Sunset Lake at Yellowstone

Yellowstone's Sunset Lake displays a wide range of the colors found in a geothermal pool.
Yellowstone's Sunset Lake displays a wide range of the colors found in a geothermal pool. In addition to mineral deposits, organisms that thrive on the acidic waters of the pool contribute bright colors to the pool. Anne Helmenstine

Cyanidium algae adds lime-green color while orange cyanobacteria adds a rusty color that looks much like the iron-rich deposits that are also common in the park.

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Yellowstone Black Sand

There are black beaches and stretches of black gravel at Yellowstone made up of obsidian.
There are black beaches and stretches of black gravel at Yellowstone made up of obsidian, a natural volcanic glass associated with rhyolitic lava flows. Anne Helmenstine

This is a handful of black sand from the beach of a lake at Yellowstone National Park.

Obsidian consists of 70–75% SiO2 with MgO and Fe3O4.

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Colorful Geyser Basin Runoff

The bands of color come from the orange cyanobacteria that flourish in the hot acidic water.
The colorful orange bands of this geyser overflow in the Norris Geyser Basin of Yellowstone are a result of the orange cyanobacteria that flourish in the hot acidic water. Anne Helmenstine