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Automated Detection of Anomalous Hydrothermal and Volcanic Activity from Space: Taking the Temperature of Yellowstone Using Thermal Infrared Satellite Data: R. Greg Vaughan
Project Title: Automated Detection of Anomalous Hydrothermal and Volcanic Activity from Space: Taking the Temperature of Yellowstone Using Thermal Infrared Satellite Data
Mendenhall Fellow: R. Greg Vaughan, (928) 556-7006,
Duty Station: Flagstaff, AZ
Start Date:October 1, 2008
Education: Ph.D. University of Nevada Reno (2004)
Research Advisors: Laszlo Keszthelyi, Flagstaff, AZ, (928) 556-7002,; David Schneider, Alaska Volcano Observatory, (907) 786-7037,; Jacob Lowenstern, Menlo Park, CA, (650) 329-5238,; Cheryl Jaworowski, Yellowstone National Park, (307) 344-2208,
R. Greg Vaughan

Project Description: Every active volcano and geothermal area has a unique thermal flux and temperature history that provides information about both normal thermal activity due to seasonal or diurnal variations and anomalous thermal activity due to volcanic or hydrothermal processes. Anomalous changes in thermal features can be indicative of a change in volcanic state and possibly signal impending volcanic or hydrothermal activity. But to understand and detect change, the natural background variations must be well characterized. The establishment of a time-series of baseline geothermal activity is the next logical step in global satellite volcano monitoring and is the basis of this project.

This study will focus on measuring and monitoring the surface temperatures and radiant heat flux of the geothermal system at Yellowstone National Park (YNP). Being the largest geothermal area on Earth, YNP will provide an opportunity to combine frequent coarse-resolution satellite measurements (for example, MODIS) with occasional higher-resolution measurements from space borne (for example, ASTER), airborne (for example, MASTER), and field instruments (for example, FLIR camera) to test algorithms and analyze the subtle geothermal features that are the surface expression of this non-erupting but still active volcano. Continuous monitoring of the YNP geothermal area will also provide information about how thermal activity may relate to other processes such as gas emissions, ground deformation, and seismic activity.

Primary Research Objectives:

1. Remote thermal feature detection—Testing the limits of thermal infrared satellite data:

2. Change detection—Time-series characterization of background thermal flux variations:


Lowenstern, J.B., Smith, R.B., and Hill, D.P., 2006, Monitoring super-volcanoes: Geophysical and geochemical signals at Yellowstone and other large caldera systems: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, A, v. 364, p. 2055–2072.

Lowenstern, J.B., and Hurwitz, S., 2008, Monitoring a supervolcano in repose: Heat and volatile flux at the Yellowstone Caldera: Elements, v. 4, p. 35–40, DOI: 10.2113/GSELEMENTS.4.1.35.

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