Life at High Temperatures
by Thomas D. Brock
Fountain Paint Pots Area
Each hot spring is unique. Even springs that look the same differ in characteristics such as temperature, flow rate, and chemistry of the water. One chemical property is so important that it has great influence on the kinds of organisms present: the acidity of the water. Some springs, such as those at Norris and Mud Volcano have very acid, sour-tasting water. They contain sulfuric acid, derived from the sulfur-rich gases emanating from the earth. Acid springs are usually concentrated in special basins, such as that of Sylvan Springs shown below, an important feature at the west end of Gibbon Meadow.
Most of the dominant thermal features in the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins are not acid, however, but contain water that is neutral or weakly alkaline in character. An example is the large spring in the Fountain area, shown above.
The microorganisms in the acid springs are entirely different from those in the neutral to alkaline springs. Indeed, the organisms of acid hot springs have two environmental hurdles to overcome, high temperature and acidity. These organisms, called thermoacidophiles, are probably derived from some of the first organisms that arose on this planet.
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