Extremities:  Geology and Life in Yellowstone and Implications for Other Worlds


Grand Prismatic Spring was the first stop of the workshop, on a cold foggy morning that did not do any justice to its famous colors. The colors are partially biological and partly physical. The central spring is blue for the same physical reason that the sky is blue — scattering from very small particles. From there outward, microbial mats in yellow, red, and brown surround the hot core of the spring, each community living at its preferred temperature.

Dr. Tori Speaks
Spring in the Mist

On the banks of the Firehole river, on the trail up to Grand Prismatic Springs, Dr. Tori Hoehler of NASA Ames Research Center talks about thermophilic microbes, and the importance of Yellowstone National Park to their study, preservation, and exploitation for industry and medicine.
Grand Prismatic Spring. The north edge of the spring, the upwind side, billowing steam into the cold northern air. "Microbes in the mist." The hillsides behind the spring bristle with dead lodgepole pine trees, victims of the huge fires in 1988.
Hands and Feet to Yourselves!
Octopus Spring photo 4

In the last few years, the Park has recognized the importance of microbial communities to the scenic, ecological, and economic resources of the park. Microbes provide much of the local color, and are at the base of several food chains in the park. The economic benefits of the Yellowstone microbes are already great. A critical enzyme for DNA fingerprinting, called Taq, comes from the microbe Thermus aquaticus collected originally in Yellowstone. Photo c/o Scott Lessor.
Not all microbial communities form flat mats or rounded mounds. These bizarre structures, almost certainly biological, are near the red zone of the Grand Prismatic Springs. We speculated on their origins, and why microbial communities might form spikes.

Back to Workshop
Back to Extremeties: Geology and Life in Yellowstone
LPI home page | LPI Education Resources Page

Copyright Allan Treiman, LPI.
Updated 11/15/02.
Comments to webmaster@lpi.usra.edu.