Home Environment Researchers study Yellowstone geysers using LiDAR tech

Researchers study Yellowstone geysers using LiDAR tech

US: By combining advanced tools like infrared photography, laser image mapping and GPS locators, researchers and geologists are studying geysers and larger hydrothermal systems in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, US. They are putting together increasingly detailed and accurate pictures of the complex underground processes that shape surface features like geysers, mudpots, hot springs and fumaroles.

Researchers hope that the findings will help park geologists better understand and protect approximately 500 Yellowstone geysers and the park’s thousands of other individual thermal features, along with the much larger interconnected underground matrix that makes up the overall Yellowstone hydrothermal system.

Visible thermal features in Yellowstone cover less than 1 percent of the park’s land area, but they are just surface indicators of a much larger web of underground systems that scientists are keen to learn more about, said Yellowstone geologist Cheryl Jaworowski.

 “The hydrothermal area is much more than individual thermal features such as the hot springs, the steam vents, the geysers and the mudpots. I know they capture our attention, but to think about the entire system, we have to start thinking about the landscape beyond the individual features,” Jaworowski said.

Yellowstone staff members collaborated with researchers from the Remote Sensing Services Laboratory at Utah State University for the project. Using off-the-shelf infrared cameras typically employed in home inspections to detect heat loss, researchers fly at 500 feet over the park, capturing a broad view of a specific hydrothermal system, such as Old Faithful and Geyser Hill.
 
They combined that image with detailed topographical mapping data captured using LiDAR, a laser rangefinder mounted on a plane that flies the same route. The images are calibrated and overlaid using known GPS coordinates and other benchmarks.

The result is an amazingly detailed composite image that is accurate to 1 meter and that shows a range of radiant temperature from about 5-70 degrees Celsius, or about 40-160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Since 2007, only a handful of Yellowstone geysers and major hydrothermal systems have been studied using the new technique, which is labor-intensive and exacting work, Jaworowski observed.

But researchers can also use a thermal imaging flight after a significant earthquake swarm, for instance, to quickly assess conditions in specific areas. It gives them good documentation on any changes to thermal systems, and yields some data that can be used for public safety and planning.

Geologists will also use the new tools, along with existing ground-based sensors and other traditional measurement techniques, to assess how Yellowstone’s hydrothermal systems will respond over the long term to a snowpack that was double the normal level for the 2010-11 winter, followed by this year’s relatively dry winter.

Source: Yellowstone Gate