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Yellowstone National Park - Living Thermometer


Location of sign - the Norris Geyser Basin trail near Whirligig Geyser in Yellowstone National Park


Photo taken June 2008

Living Thermometer, Living Thermometer sign, Norris Geyser Basin Yellowstone National Park  

Close-up view of sign


Living Thermometer, Living Thermometer sign, Norris Geyser Basin Yellowstone National Park

Wide view of sign


Text of sign:


Living Thermometer


Can you imagine living in a geyser? Thermophiles - microorganisms that thrive in the heat - are perfectly adapted to living in geysers

and their runoff channels.  Some live where temperatures are hottest, while others reside in cooler areas.  As you look at the colors

around Whirligig Geyser, you are looking at a "living thermometer".  


At 122-140F (50-60C) Whirligig's runnoff channel is hot enough to burn you.  Thermophiles living here use iron for energy from

Whirligig's iron-rich water, and become coated with rust.  These chemical-users are called "chemotrophs."


Thermophile algae, including Cyanidium, inhabit the green channel.  Like plants, these tiny single celled organisms photosynthesize,

or use sunlight for energy.  These "phototrophs" live where temperatures range from 100-133F (38-56C).


Communal Life


Norris Geyser Basin is highly acidic.  Amazingly thermophiles living here thrive in heat and acid.


Thermophiles are too small to see without a microscope, but their vast communities are clearly visible.

The number of thermophiles living beneath a ten-inch square may exceed the number of people on earth!


Did You Know?


Scientists study these thermophiles to learn how life has adapted to iron-rich, acidic conditions.


Mineral deposits here record one of Earth's most extreme habitats.  Scientists use this record to aid their search for similar deposits

and possible life on Mars.

This exhibit made possible by a generous grant to the Yellowstone Park Foundation from NASA Astrobiology Institute and

Lockheed Martin Space Operations.


Graphics on the sign


In addition to the text there is a picture of multicolored runoff, a thermometer and two close-ups of thermophiles.


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