Why So Foamy?
The hot springs at Yellowstone Park are intriguing microsystems. The pH of the water may vary from very acid to very basic, and the temperatures are considered to be too high to support life. But, in this extreme environment, we find an abundance of microorganisms known as thermophiles (“heat-loving”). How these organisms survive under the harsh pH and temperature conditions is a topic for significant research.
Amazing But True
- The conditions found in most hot springs are not what we would expect to support life. Extreme pH levels give us the terms “acidophiles” and “alkaliphiles” used to describe the organisms that live at these pH values. The term “thermophilic” designates those bacteria that can survive high temperatures. Some of the Yellowstone pools have low pH levels (Sulfur Cauldron 1.3, Lemonade Creek 2.1). Basic pH levels can be found in other Yellowstone hot springs (Firehole Spring 8.6, Crested Pool 9.4).
- Soap Lake is a small community located in central part of the state of Washington, and is the name of a lake than contains mineral waters used for healing. For centuries, Native American tribes would gather at the lake to swap, race horses, and enjoy the properties of the waters. They named the lake Smokiam (meaning “healing waters”). Although the popularity of the area has declined from its high point in the early twentieth century, the town still does a good business in catering to those who wish to soak in the lake.
- The lake is composed of two layers, with the upper layer being warmer and more alkaline than the colder, more salty lower layer. Both layers have pH values in the range of 9.8-10.2. The foam that is often seen on the shores is due to the high carbonate concentrations in the water. The carbonates also give rise to the very alkaline conditions. Research is currently being carried out to explore the environment that might have existed on Mars at one time.
- Watch a video about Soap Lake at the link below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZomFHxpl2Po
Show What You Know
Use the links below to learn more about alkaline water. Then answer the following questions.
- What are the lowest and highest pH values seen in hot springs at Yellowstone?
- What is the highest pH that has been experimentally verified as being able to support life?
- What compounds contribute to the high pH of Soap Lake?
- What evidence was found that life might have existed on Mars at one time?