Yellowstone National Park field sampling I

Yellowstone Nation Park sampling expedition for Astrobiology
- July 2013 -

Yellowstone National Park is an outstanding place to do Astrobiology research. Created by 3 major eruptions 2 million, 1.3 million, and 600 thousand years ago (we’re overdue for the next one!), and punctuated by smaller eruptions since, Yellowstone is a natural laboratory to investigate life in extreme environments. The shallow magma chamber located 1 or 2 miles below the park – itself located within the caldera (collapsed terrain) of the eruptive events  - and fueled by a likely mantle plume, gives life to hundreds of hot springs, geysers, and boiling mud pots. These environments, instantly lethal to humans, are home to a large array of microbes, living off the material transported by water as it interacted with rocks at depth, and brought to the surface often in spectacular ways.

Drs. Eric Boyd, Kirsten Fristad and myself, are in Yellowstone to survey the dissolved gas hydrogen in these springs. The reaction of water with rock produces hydrogen (H2) via several processes that are widespread on Earth. Hydrogen may also have a biological origin from such processes as fermentation. The geological processes that can form hydrogen are expected to occur on other planets where liquid water and rocks are present. The geological production of hydrogen represents a continuous supply of chemical energy for life. Hydrogen utilizing microbes are of particular interest because they are both widespread and are deeply rooted in the phylogenic tree of life, implying they may have emerged extremely early in the evolution of life on Earth, and possibly even at the origin of life. As a result, hydrogen-based microbes are strong candidates for the potential of life beyond Earth. Our goal this week is to measure the variation in hydrogen abundance in hydrothermal springs across Yellowstone and its distinct rock types, in order to assess whether these springs can host primitive microbes; and if so ask the following questions “why” and “how”? The first step in this research is understand what concentrations of H2 can be expected in such systems.

Kirsten and I left from NASA Ames Research Center on a 2 day road trip across California, Nevada, Idaho to finally arrive in West Yellowstone, MT. The scenic drive was fantastic, particularly when we reached terrain that had a deep volcanic origins, such as the Snake River Plain (image below). Being both rock enthusiasts, it was really cool to see how the Snake River has incised the flood basalt. With our “roadside geology” books, we turned a road trip into a geology lesson in its own right.

On our first day in the field, and equipped with the necessary sampling permits from the Park Service, we packed up our supplies in West Yellowstone, and met Eric at the Norris Geyser Basin inside the park, where we decided to work in the Crater Hills Geyser area. Crater Hills is on the east side of the park, and so we made it the first stop in our park survey. The pullout for the hike to Crater Hills is located by a scenic view of Lamar valley. Hundreds of bisons could be seen in the distance, with a few not too far from us during our hike up to the sampling site. In fact, once we arrived at Crater Hills, we had to wait to sample one of the hot spring because of a bison taking a nap by the spring! These are beautiful, yet dangerous animals, so we made sure to keep a safe distance.

Crater Hills is dominantly occupied by acidic hot springs. The soil around them is bare, as the acidic flows have leached out all plant nutrients. The fact that such springs occupy a depression just shows how effective those acidic springs are at eating through the rocks. Their existence created the depression! We sampled for hydrogen at four different pools by extracting the gas from collected spring water. Each spring had a different color and bubbling intensity. The main Crater Hills Geyser was by far the most impressive with its vigorous activity (see video below)!

Next post!

Views: 411


You need to be a member of SAGANet to add comments!

Join SAGANet


  • Add Photos
  • View All

Blog Posts

¿Are the Venusian sulphuric acid clouds the by product of long dead anoxogenic photosynthetic organisms?

Posted by Andrew Planet on May 4, 2020 at 2:51pm 2 Comments

I just read the piece at the link below entitled "Study: Life might survive, and thrive, in a hydrogen world."

I'd been thinking on similar lines recently, on different atmospheres with early life, but I was considering anoxogenic bacteria whose byproduct is sulfur instead of molecular oxygen. ¿Had life evolved on Venus could its sulfuric clouds be the signature byproduct of such life with no branches ever evolving to produce the equivalent of Earth's Great…


100 years tomorrow 26th April 2020 since we looked beyond the Milky Way Galaxy

Posted by Andrew Planet on April 25, 2020 at 11:10am 0 Comments

Exactly 100 years ago tomorrow, the subject on whether this Universe is larger than the Milky Way Galaxy was brought up publicly at an event sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, known as The Great Debate. Until then the Milky Way was thought to be this Universe.  Conference at the NAS

See this…


The 5th Mexican School of Astrobiology

Posted by Tardigrelda on June 24, 2019 at 1:00pm 0 Comments

I am really glad to invite everyone to the next Mexican School of Astrobiology (aka EMA) which is this August.

¡Anímate a participar en la 5ta Escuela Mexicana de…


A consortium of representatives of European Research Organisations has taken the initiative to create a virtual institute named the “European Astrobiology Institute” (EAI) with the ambition of enabli…

Posted by Wolf D. Geppert on February 24, 2019 at 1:33am 0 Comments

A consortium of representatives of European Research Organisations has taken the initiative to create a virtual institute named the “European Astrobiology Institute” (EAI) with the ambition of enabling Europe to emerge as a key player in Astrobiology and to…



  • Add Videos
  • View All


Ask your questions here!

Started by Gina Riggio in SAGANet Discussions. Last reply by Graham E. Lau 3 hours ago. 119 Replies

If you are trying to ask a question live during Ask an Astrobiologist, please do so in the main chatroom at the bottom of the screen! You can also ask on twitter…Continue

Have we been looking in the wrong time-frame? Requesting feedback on a recent paper.

Started by Christopher J Reiss in The Cutting-Edge of Astrobiology Apr 3. 0 Replies

Let me first say Hi to everyone as a new member here!   I hope you are all safe, sound, and not too stir-crazy during this Pandemic.I recently stumbled upon a notion for SETI which seems so simple I…Continue

Interactive Online Astrobiology for 10-12 yr olds

Started by Julia Brodsky in Education and Public Outreach Mar 9. 0 Replies

If your 10-12 yr old child is interested in space science, I would like to invite them to our courses. I am a former science teacher,  mom of three, and a former NASA astronaut instructor. I also…Continue

Tags: school, education, middle, astrobiology, STEM

zahra cell

Started by adam nurjaman in Education and Public Outreach Mar 7. 0 Replies

Hallo apa kabar ? semoga selalu baik2 saja zahra cell adalah blog yang…Continue

Tags: cell, zahra

© 2020   Blue Marble Space, a non-profit organization committed to science and science outreach.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service