Abstract

Slightly alkaline hot springs and geysers in Yellowstone National Park exhibit distinctive assemblages of high-temperature (>73 °C) siliceous sinter reflecting local hydrodynamic conditions. The main depositional zones include subaqueous pool and channel bottoms and intermittently wetted subaerial splash, surge, and overflow areas. Subaqueous deposits include particulate siliceous sediment and dendritic and microbial silica framework. Silica framework forms thin, porous, microbe-rich films coating subaqueous surces. Spicules with intervening narrow crevices dominate in splash zones. Surge and overflow deposits include pool and channel rims, columns, and knobs. In thin section, subaerial sinter is composed of (i) dark brown, nearly opaque laminated sinter deposited on surfaces that evaporate to dryness; (ii) clear translucent silica deposited subaqueously through precipitation driven by supersaturation; (iii) heterogeneous silica representing silica-encrusted microbial filaments and detritus; and (iv) sinter debris. Brownish laminations form the framework of most sinter deposited in surge and overflow zones. Pits and cavities are common architectural features of subaerial sinter and show concave-upward pseudo-cross-laminations and micro-unconformities developed through migration. Marked birefringence of silica deposited on surfaces that evaporate to dryness is probably a strain effect. Repeated wetting and evaporation, often to dryness, and capillary effects control the deposition, morphology, and microstructure of most high-temperature sinter outside of the fully subaqueous zone. Microbial filaments are abundant on and within high-temperature sinter but do not provide the main controls on morphology or structuring except in biofilms developed on subaqueous surfaces. Millimetre-scale lamination cyclicity in much high-temperature sinter represents annual layering and regular seasonal fluctuations in silica sedimentation.

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