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Mar 17 / Dave Schumaker

Terrace Formation in Hot Springs

The New Scientist is reporting on a study published in the Journal of Nature Physics this week about how terraced pools form and what controls them in hot springs around Yellowstone National Park.

Previous hypotheses about the formation of these terraces thought that heat-loving microbes influenced the deposition of travertine and they were formed in a rather haphazard fashion. Two researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign say that a number of physical processes could be responsible and have shown how by creating a computer simulation.

Terraced hot spring pools at Yellowstone

The pair suspected that one of the primary processes governing the sizes and shapes of the ponds was a process of drowning. The lips on the edge of some terraces grow faster than others due to variable water flow. This means faster-growing ponds will drown the adjacent slower-growing ones.

Using such observations, they built a computer model that predicted how the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs would grow. Over two years, the prediction matched the appearance and distribution of pond shapes at the springs.

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