Yellowstone Volcano Observatory

U.S. Geological Survey
Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5234

Systematics of Water Temperature and Flow at Tantalus Creek During Calendar Year 2005, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

By Laura E. Clor, Jacob B. Lowenstern, and Henry P. Heasler


Photo of valley with geysers in the middle
Tantalus Creek collects nearly all the thermal water discharged at the Norris Geyser Basin, pictured below. The bottom of the photo shows tributaries of Tantalus Creek draining the Gray Lakes (left) and Steamboat-Echinus-Emerald hydrologic subbasins. Photo taken from a balloon-mounted camera by B. Graham Wall, September 2005.

We analyze data for stream flow and water temperature from Tantalus Creek in the Norris Geyser Basin and their relationship to air temperature, precipitation, and geyser eruptions during calendar year 2005. The creek is of interest because it is the primary drainage of the Norris Geyser Basin and carries a very high proportion of thermal water derived directly from hot springs. Two separate diurnal patterns emerge — (1) a winter pattern where increases in water temperature and stream flow closely track those of air temperature and (2) a summer pattern where water and air temperature are closely aligned but stream flow declines once water temperature reaches its daily maximum. The winter pattern is present when the daily average temperature consistently drops below 0 °C whereas the summer pattern is recognizable when the daily average temperature regularly exceeds 0 °C. Spring and fall systematics are much more irregular, although both summer and winter patterns can be discerned occasionally during those seasons. We interpret increases in stream flow associated with the winter pattern to result from addition of locally sourced melt water (both snow and soil-bound ice) that increases in abundance once temperatures increase in the morning. Melting is facilitated by the warm ground temperatures in the geyser basin, which are significantly higher than air temperatures in the winter. The summer pattern appears to be strongly affected by increased evaporation in the afternoon, decreasing flow and cooling the remaining water. Discharge from eruptions at Echinus Geyser are clearly visible as peaks in the hydrograph, and indicate that water from this geyser reach the Tantalus weir in 80 to 90 minutes, reflecting a slug of water that travels about 0.4 m s-1.


Download the text of this report as a 23-page PDF file (sir2007-5234_text.pdf; 1.8 MB).


Download the data for this report as a .xls file (sir2007-5234_data.xls; 12.8 MB).

For questions about the content of this report, contact Laura Clor ( or Jake Lowenstern (

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