Geological and Thermal Control of the Hydrothermal System in Northern Yellowstone Lake: Inferences From High-Resolution Magnetic Surveys

Claire Bouligand, Maurice A. Tivey, Carol A. Finn, Lisa A. Morgan, W. C.Pat Shanks, Robert A. Sohn

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16 Scopus citations


A multiscale magnetic survey of the northern basin of Yellowstone Lake was undertaken in 2016 as part of the Hydrothermal Dynamics of Yellowstone Lake Project (HD-YLAKE)—a broad research effort to characterize the cause-and-effect relationships between geologic and environmental processes and hydrothermal activity on the lake floor. The magnetic survey includes lake surface, regional aeromagnetic, and near-bottom autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) data. The study reveals a strong contrast between the northeastern lake basin, characterized by a regional magnetic low punctuated by stronger local magnetic lows, many of which host hydrothermal vent activity, and the northwestern lake basin with higher-amplitude magnetic anomalies and no obvious hydrothermal activity or punctuated magnetic lows. The boundary between these two regions is marked by a steep gradient in heat flow and magnetic values, likely reflecting a significant structure within the currently active ~20-km-long Eagle Bay-Lake Hotel fault zone that may be related to the ~2.08-Ma Huckleberry Ridge caldera rim. Modeling suggests that the broad northeastern magnetic low reflects both a shallower Curie isotherm and widespread hydrothermal activity that has demagnetized the rock. Along the western lake shoreline are sinuous-shaped, high-amplitude magnetic anomaly highs, interpreted as lava flow fronts of upper units of the West Thumb rhyolite. The AUV magnetic survey shows decreased magnetization at the periphery of the active Deep Hole hydrothermal vent. We postulate that lower magnetization in the outer zone results from enhanced hydrothermal alteration of rhyolite by hydrothermal condensates while the vapor-dominated center of the vent is less altered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020JB019743
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The lake surface and AUV magnetic data were acquired under National Park Service research permit YELL-2016-SCI-7018 and the 2016 aeromagnetic data under research permit YELL-2016-SCI-7056. We thank Sarah Haas, Stacey Gunther, Erik Oberg, Annie Carlson, and Patricia Bigelow at the Yellowstone Center for Resources for assistance with permitting and logistics, Ranger Jackie Sene for assistance with logistics and safety at Bridge Bay, Bob Gresswell for providing us with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) boat Alamar, the boat pilot Nick Heredia, and Robert Harris and Shaul Hurwitz for fruitful discussions. We are very thankful to Ocean Floor Geophysics (Brian Claus and Steve Bloomer) who provided the magnetometer for the AUV survey and preprocessed the data, and to the REMUS 600 team (Greg Packard and Greg Kurras) for operating and optimizing the AUV during lake operations. Data from the Newport and Boulder observatories were used to process the survey data. We thank the USGS Geomagnetism Program for supporting their operation and INTERMAGNET for promoting high standards of magnetic observatory practice ( This research was funded by the National Science Foundation's Integrated Earth Systems program EAR-1516361 (HD-YLAKE project), USGS Mineral Resource and Volcano Hazard Programs, and benefited from major in-kind support from the USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Maurice Tivey was supported under National Science Foundation Grant OCE-1557455. During the course of this study, Claire Bouligand was a visiting scientist at the USGS in Menlo Park, California, USA, benefited from a delegation to Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and received funding from CNRS-INSU program SYSTER. ISTerre is part of Labex OSUG@2020 (ANR10 LABX56). Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Publisher Copyright:
©2020. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • hydrothermal
  • magnetic anomalies
  • Yellowstone

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