[Geysers] Grotto shenanigans, and a researcher question

David Schwarz david.schwarz at alumni.duke.edu
Sun Feb 27 18:21:43 PST 2011

   Minor quibble:  Duke University, not the Carnegie Institute.  Those boxes
were part of Stuart Rojstaczer's project.  As I understood it, one goal, at
least for funding purposes, was to determine whether variation in the
behavior of relatively regular geysers could be used to predict
earthquakes.  He later presented the study as "the first comprehensive
effort to monitor geyser activity in the Old Faithful region of Yellowstone
National Park over a lengthy (one year) time period."

   I think the secondary sensors were themocouples connected to radio
transmitters.  If you knew where to look near Bonita Pool, you could pick
out a suspicious line of small rocks leading up to a object that could have
passed for a hamster-sized moon lander.


On Sun, Feb 27, 2011 at 1:13 PM, Mary Beth Schwarz <schwarzmb at gmail.com>wrote:

>      The Carnegie Institute study used motion detectors set into little
> boxes that resembled bird houses high in trees but visible to visitors.  The
> signals were sent to the OFVC with with sensors powered with solar batteries
> except for the Castle monitor which had a large orange ice chest that was
> difficult to camouflage at the base of the tree.
>      The summer volunteers turned in lots of eruption data as requested to
> check the accuracy of the monitors.  The "bird house" for the Grand sensor
> was easily seen  from the boardwalk and generated questions constantly.
> Especially at night there was so much steam movement at Grand that the
> actual eruption time was not discernible.  It was even worse for Castle
> since there are so many splashes in the interval not to mention lots of
> steam movement.  They tried to block out times when Castle could not be
> ready to erupt, but with minors and then the next major the intervals could
> be short and it never worked well.
>      Indeed the monitors at Daisy and Riverside were the ones that worked
> fairly well.
>      Mary Beth Schwarz
> On Sat, Feb 26, 2011 at 4:16 PM, Ralph Taylor <ralph.c.taylor at gmail.com>wrote:
>> >>On Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 10:12 AM, Davis, Brian L. <brdavis at iusb.edu>wrote:
>>> David Schwarz wrote:
>>> >The main problem with the tree-mounted sensors (can't remember
>>> > if they were detecting motion or heat) was that they couldn't
>>> distinguish
>>> > between steam clouds and a water column.
>>> >>Is there any more description of these or the "camera boxes"? I'm not
>>> familiar with either (how they worked, when/where they were deployed,
>>> >>etc).
>> I remember seeing them.  They were about 12 inches tall by maybe 8 inches
>> square, if I recall correctly after all these years.  They used a radio link
>> to computers in the old OFVC, and integrated at least two sensors, infrared
>> and another that I don't recall.  They were located 10-12 feet above ground
>> level in trees, one across the bike path from Castle, one across the river
>> from Riverside, one in the trees south of Daisy, and one near Old Faithful
>> (I don't recall just where).
>>> > The idea of using a non-contact IR thermometer pointed at the runoff
>>> > instead of a thermister seems like it would work, but then it's one
>>> more
>>> > piece of hardware to fail in extreme Yellowstone conditions...
>>> >>That's true - but a system that might work, some of the time, still
>>> seems preferable to a system that doesn't exist and isn't recording anything
>>> >>(the current state of affairs at Lone Star and... well, most of the rest
>>> of the known geysers). It might just be a "summer system". It might not
>>> >>even work then. but I think it's an interesting alternative, and I wasn't
>>> sure if anyone had tried it, or even used one of these remote IR
>>> >>thermometers on a geyser. It would seem ideal, as it does *not* require a
>>> permit - it's exactly as invasive to the environment as a camera.
>>> Plenty of loggers exist now -- last summer we had about 40 deployed in
>> the Upper, Midway, Lower, and West Thumb Geyser basins.  Over the winter of
>> 2010-2011 there are 39 loggers deployed.  True, Lone Star is not covered,
>> but one reason for that is that nobody has expressed interest in doing an
>> analysis of Lone Star, and it is inconvenient to deploy and monitor that one
>> geyser.
>> I do not know of any infrared monitoring attempts since the Carnegie
>> Institute "boxes" we have been discussing.
>> Any instruments left in the field *do* require a permit, and the permit
>> conditions generally require that the equipment be "out of the view of the
>> public".  This can be difficult if the equipment requires a clear view of
>> the geyser.  While an infrared sensor is only "as invasive to the
>> environment as a camera", that is only true if it is hand-held and removed
>> when the observer leaves.  If the infrared sensor is left in the field, it
>> is no less invasive than our thermistor probes and loggers.
>>> > it sounds unduly complex and probably expensive compared to using
>>> > a ready-made physical probe/logger system.
>>> Yes
>> >>Again, a good point at least on cost - it would seem this would be a
>> custom job, not something that can be grabbed off the shelf. And while PIR
>> >>and IR sensors are cheap, they certainly aren't as cheap as a
>> thermocouple. But I'm not at all sure it would be more complicated - it's a
>> sensor >>with an analog or digital output. You wire that into a datalogger.
>> The only additional mechanical problem is pointing it (but, you no longer
>> need >>a sensor that is waterproof and surviving multiple freeze-thaw cycles
>> in water, which isn't a simple problem to solve either). But there are some
>> >>possible compensatory advantages...
>>  A logger using a thermistor (better suited to the conditions than
>> thermocouples) costs less than $200 and we have had pretty good success with
>> reliability and robustness.  Freeze-thaw cycles don't seem to hurt the
>> instruments but ice dams can form and divert runoff away from the sensors.
>> The sensors we use are stainless steel encased, so watertightness is not a
>> problem.  The loggers are no more or no less difficult to make waterproof
>> than an infrared sensor with an attached data logger, and do not have
>> problems with fog, animals blocking the view, or snow accumulating in front
>> of the lens.
>> >>1) It's perhaps more likely to get permission to "install" something
>> small and "off the sinter" than permission to put something in a runoff
>> >>channel (making sure it's hidden from everyone).
>> >>2) It also potentially makes it easier to access to maintain (the number
>> of placement options go way up)
>> I can't comment on #1, but I disagree with #2.  In either case, placement
>> options are limited, but generally doable.  There are a few geysers that we
>> have not monitored because of placement difficulty, but very few.  Finding a
>> way to do an infrared logger for a geyser like Beehive with little cover
>> around would be quite challenging in my opinion.
>> >>3) One "installation" can potentially monitor many geysers (all within
>> unobstructed line-of-sight). If you're in a runoff channel that's not much.
>> If >>you could get away with this from a hill (or the top of a building)
>> overlooking, say, geyser hill, it might be a very economical way of
>> "monitoring" >>a lot of things simultaneously (with a multi-channel recorder
>> even).
>>  I suspect that separating out the different geysers in a multi-geyser
>> setup would be an interesting challenge.  Picking out eruptions from other
>> variations in signal is the hardest thing about the logging that I do.
>> >>Is it immediate and off-the-shelf, perfect for what we'd like? Nope...
>> if there was something like that, we'd be using it. But it is an interesting
>> >>ideal I think. Next time I get in the neighborhood, maybe I'll try to find
>> an IR thermometer to test.
>> Ralph Taylor
>> --
>> Brian Davis
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