Hot Spring Terraces, Yellowstone National Park

Hot Spring Pools, Mammoth Hot Springs


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

The white mountain of travertine is the main attraction at the Mammoth Hot Springs. This fast-changing hydrothermal area, one of the few active travertine terraces in the world, is thousands of years in the making. Marvel at the ornate step-like formation known as Minerva Terrace. Learn about thermophiles - heat-loving organisms that color hot spring pools orange, brown, yellow and green - at Canary Spring. Calculate the length of time it will take Opal Terrace to encroach on the nearby historic house. (Hint: Opal Terrace deposits 1 foot or 0.3 m of travertine a year.) Learn about pressure and time at Liberty Cap. Discover the difference between a terrace and mound on Upper Terrace Drive. Visit New Highland Terrace and witness the effects of calcium carbonate on trees. The hot spring terraces in Yellowstone's Mammoth district may not gurgle, bubble, stink or spurt but they fascinate kids nevertheless.
Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces
Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces

Alfredo De Simone

Mammoth Hot Springs, once known as white mountain, looks more like the inside of a cave than a hot water fountain. What gives this hydrothermal area its distinctive appearance? A unique combination of rock and water. The rock below Mammoth Hot Springs is limestone rather than the silica-rich lava flows found elsewhere in Yellowstone. What's more, the superheated water at Mammoth contains a gas called carbon dioxide that dissolves limestone as it percolates up. Calcium carbonate, the principle mineral in limestone, is carried to the surface by the hot bubbling water. When the water reaches the surface it changes pressure and cools. The cooler water releases the gas and deposits the calcium carbonate mineral. The deposits are layered one on top of another forming travertine terraces one step at a time.
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