Welcome to Nature News from GYE #10 July 13 ,2020
Water…Cannot think about Greater Yellowstone without recognizing its significance as source of water for the entire lower 48 states and beyond. At an average of 8,000 ft., Yellowstone Park has a tremendous average snowfall. More than 20-30 feet can accumulate in different regions of Yellowstone, but that varies tremendously with location and elevation.
The SW corner of Yellowstone Park receives huge amounts of snow. During ski trips in this area, I have personally seen more than 12 feet of snow accumulated! However, throughout the ecosystem elevations of 11- 13,000 feet exist. In these areas, huge winter snows occur.
This is significant as most of the moisture in GYE is a result of snowmelt. The abundance of snowmelt impacts groundwater and surface water. This includes water that feeds the geyser basins.
If one looks at the geography of GYE, the continental divide (CD) splits the watersheds to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in SW Yellowstone. On the east side of the CD, sits the headwaters of the Missouri river (The Gallatin, Madison and Jefferson rivers join about 30 miles west of Bozeman). From there the “big muddy” flows 2341 miles before it joins the Mississippi.
The Yellowstone River (longest unregulated river in lower 48 states) flows into the Missouri over 500 miles after it flows out of Lake Yellowstone. The Yellowstone River flows north through the park, through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and a few other canyons, eventually to the east and joins the Missouri up in NE Montana.
The headwaters of the Snake River, which flows 1000 miles from its source to the Columbia river, lies in Yellowstone Park in the Southwestern corner on the west side of the Continental Divide. One of the headwaters of the Colorado river (the Green River) , which flows eventually through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado and eventually to the Gulf of California, is at Green Lake in the Wind River Mountains.
In my wanderings, I always am astonished when I see a teeny spring emerging from a hillside, or a dense forest landscape. These small sources of water eventually trickle down to the streams, which flow into the smaller rivers and eventually, one of the mighty rivers I mentioned above. It all starts with one drop!
Geysers occur as a result of superheated (from a hotspot which has created the Yellowstone Super volcano) water, under pressure, that is forced through a volcanic rock (rhyolite) which has a hardness strong to support an intricate “plumbing system”. All of these factors together create the perfect environment for geyser activity. We all recognize Yellowstone Park as geyser-land of the planet. That is, in part, due to the tremendous water sources in this area.
Castle Geyser upper geyser basin
One more very important role of water I cannot leave out of the Yellowstone water story is the life that exists here with this abundant water. Vegetation, plants, animals, birds, fish, microbes, insects, and much more thrive with the abundant water sources in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.
For as long as I’ve been in this area, it never ceases to amaze me how much the watershed of GYE impacts so much of this country. We can never take clean, fresh water for granted. Hope you can all spend some time outside this week.
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