Researchers have reconstructed what hot springs looked like before tourists

Updated: December 20, 2014
Researchers have reconstructed what hot springs looked like before tourists

Have you ever wondered what type of impact tourism can have on a natural environment? Researchers at Montana State University, in a joint effort with researchers from the University of Applied Sciences in Germany, have done just that. Using a simple mathematical model, scientists have reconstructed the original colors of Yellowstone’s hot springs — before we polluted them.

Yellowstone National Park is a geothermal wonderland, and the natural springs there sport a variety of stunning colors. Yet no mathematical model existed to show empirically how the physical and chemical variables of a pool relate to their optical factors and coalesce in the unique, stunning fashion that they do.

“What we were able to show is that you really don’t have to get terribly complex-you can explain some very beautiful things with relatively simple models,” said Joseph Shaw, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The scientists used a simple one-dimensional model to reproduce the brilliant colors and optical characteristics of Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs by accounting for each pool’s spectral reflection due to microbial mats, their optical absorption and scattering of water and the incident solar and diffuse skylight conditions present when measurements were taken.

“There are people at my university who are world experts in the biological side of what’s going on in the pools,” said Shaw. “They’re looking for ways to monitor changes in the biology-when the biology changes, that causes color changes-so we’re actually looking at possibilities of collaborating in the future.”