Amazing Colors in Yellowstone Caused by Algae, Bacteria and Microorganisms
Yellowstone National Park
A fantastic artist's palette of colors can be found in Yellowstone National Park all created by Mother Nature assisted by some of her workers consisting of algae and bacteria. The landscape is like no other place on earth.
The molten magma at the core of the earth is closer to the surface here causing all types of exciting and unusual effects. In most places on earth the crust is about 90 miles thick before one encounters the magma, but in Yellowstone, only about 40 miles separate one from this fiery core component.
Never static, minor earthquakes frequently happen in this locale and the landscape one sees today will evolve into something different in the future. It has been an ongoing pattern for eons of time.
Discovery of This Area
Listeners did not believe the earliest explorer's accounts of what they had found in the land mass which we now call Yellowstone National Park.
Understandably people were probably very skeptical when being told of intense aqua, orange, brown, yellow, blue and even green colors of water and land that seemed to emerge in this landscape resembling no other.
Putting these surreal descriptions together with the geysers, almost 300 of them, that were intermittently putting on their explosive show and it is no wonder that early explorers to Yellowstone were believed to be telling tall tales of fantasy.
Of course, before the 1800s, the Native American Indians knew of this geothermic area because they had utilized this land for hunting and fishing. The bison, elk, bears, wolves and other animals that still call this area home today would have provided sustenance for the Indians.
Effects of Heat, Bacterium, Algae, and Minerals in This Environment
As you can tell from the picture shown above regarding the Chinaman Spring, the bubbling and steaming water is simmering at 202 degrees Fahrenheit or 94 degrees Celsius.
Average temperatures of the hot springs in Yellowstone are around 199 degrees Fahrenheit, and many varieties of bacteria (which are small one-celled organisms) can thrive in that sizzling environment.
Some of these thermophilic bacteria (species that love and live in the hot waters) develop long strands that can become quite colorful.
Algae are tiny plants that live in water, and much of it is also present in Yellowstone adding to the colorful display.
The color of algae is related to water temperature with the light colored algae existing in the hotter springs. Algae seldom survive in temperatures over 167 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rich minerals that have been liquefied and brought to the surface by the superheated springs also assist Mother Nature in creating brilliant splashes of pigmented coloration within the national park.
Thus the array of the bacterium, algae, and minerals thriving in this acidic hydrothermal environment help to create this astonishing landscape.
Old Faithful and Thermal Features in Yellowstone
Comprising the palette for all of these rainbow colors (in which the bacteria, algae, and minerals have done their part) are the ever-present thermal features which include the geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles.
Most people have probably heard of the famous geyser Old Faithful that has been emitting a stream of hot water in regular intermittent fashion for years.
Fumaroles are steam vents that express various gases some of which are sulfuric giving off that rotten egg smell.
Mud pots are mud puddles in which steam comes up from below ground and heats them making them bubble. If these mud pots also have minerals in them, they become very colorful and are labeled Paint Pots for obvious descriptive reasons.
Porcelain Basin in the Norris Geyser Basin rests over a significant fault in the earth's crust. Yellowstone is the most volatile and hottest exposed area on earth!
Many forested areas exist here. But as movements deep within the earth shift, some areas that once had healthy stands of trees give way to the ground becoming saltier and or acidic with hot waters taking its place.
These minerals and other components are drawn up into the tree, and it soon loses its battle with life.
Looking at the picture below, one can see a white band around the base of a now dead tree that had absorbed nutrients detrimental to its life.
In this environment, nothing remains the same forever. Areas that were once hot and lifeless (except for the bacteria and algae) again become fertile for trees and other plants. It is an ever-evolving landscape within this national park.
People walking through these more active geothermal areas within the park are admonished to stay on the wooden walkways. The elevated walkways are to ensure people's safety as well as to protect this fragile environment.
Who would wish to take the chance of suddenly being scalded by steam or hot water that might lie below the surface?
First U.S. National Park
Yellowstone was designated as America's very first national park on March 1, 1872, by then President Ulysses S. Grant.
Comprised of 3,384 square miles ( 8,765 square kilometers ) it provides a variety of scenery.
In addition to these colorful geothermal locations pictured here, there is much in the way of wilderness with mountains and valleys.
Hiking, camping, fishing, and photography would keep one entertained for as long as one might wish.
Lodging both in and outside the park is available.
Ancient volcanic activity shaped most of this part of the country. Learning about Mother Earth from this unique place on the planet can be exciting and fun.
The last photo shown above has scalloped edging around the intensely pigmented pool of water. These are from silica deposits that have turned into what is known as geyserite.
The intensity of color depends upon the light, the microorganisms present and the particulates that are in the water among other things. Pigments within the microorganisms themselves also account for different coloration.
Hopefully, these pictures of the effects of algae and bacteria in Yellowstone will entice you to come and take a look at this fantastic color display for yourself someday. There is much more of Yellowstone to see!
Have you ever seen these geo-thermal areas in Yellowstone National Park?
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Peggy Woods