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Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium
Chicago, United States

Hot water is the creative force of the terraces. Even though Mammoth Hot Springs lie north of the caldera ring-fracture system, a fault trending north from Norris Geyser Basin, 21 miles (34 km) away, may connect Mammoth Hot Springs to the hot water of that system. A system of small fissures carries water upward to create approximately 50 hot springs in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Another necessary ingredient for terrace growth is the mineral calcium carbonate. Thick layers of sedimentary limestone, deposited millions of years ago by vast seas, lie beneath the Mammoth area. As ground water seeps slowly downward and laterally, it comes in contact with hot gases charged with carbon dioxide rising from the magma chamber. Some carbon dioxide is readily dissolved in the hot water to form a weak carbonic acid solution. This hot, acidic solution dissolves great quantities of limestone as it works up through the rock layers to the surface hot springs. Once exposed to the open air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes from solution. As this happens, limestone can no longer remain in solution. A solid mineral reforms and is deposited as the travertine that forms the terraces.

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