The Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is unique for its large number of "thermal occurrences, of which there are some 30 geysers. This, in turn, appears to be the result of the presence of large quantities of molten rock, and the thinness of the earth's crust there, compared to the other spots on the earth.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no other (known) place on earth where so much thermal power is contained in a relatively small area. Is this in fact the case? If so, what made Yellowstone, Wyoming so unique in this regard?

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    $\begingroup$ Before asking why is it unique, one should establish that it is unique. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think Iceland is pretty famous for its spectacular geysers, as well as for its use of geothermal energy for all heating and (most?) electricity in Reykjavik. So I disagree it is unique, although it is indeed not a common feature. $\endgroup$
    – hugovdberg
    Apr 16, 2014 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit: I adopted your excellent suggestion regarding this question. More to the point, I adopted the same suggestion regarding this quesion earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/280/… and wonder if it can be reopened in its current form. $\endgroup$
    – Tom Au
    Jun 23, 2019 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ Please consult a dictionary regarding the definition of unique. There are many geothermal areas around the world, some with geysers, Yellowstone might (or might not) be the largest of these, but that certainly doesn't make it unique. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jun 24, 2019 at 18:06

1 Answer 1


Yellowstone is thought to be above a mantle plume, of with there are tens to hundreds on our planet, although there is plenty of debate on this matter. The exact nature of mantle plumes is a huge area of hotly contested research, but generally the are thought to be large melts originally sourced from the D'' layer (core / mantle boundary). Below the park, the plume is theorized to have resulted in magmatic intrusions overlain by a hydrothermal system. The intrusions can also be considered as magma chambers of a supervolcano, which has had several ultraplinean caldera-forming events.

The Yellowstone hotspot is the only obvious expression of a mantle plume beneath the continental United States, which may be why you consider it "unique." The other major plume / hotspot in the US is Hawaii.

Yellowstone is certainly not the only major geothermal area in the world; geothermal areas in New Zealand, Italy, Japan and Antarctica are comparable in terms of heat flow. It's unclear what you mean by "thermal power" but Yellowstone park does not have any geothermal electric power generation plants. New Zealand, on the other hand, generates 13% of their national power needs geothermally.

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    $\begingroup$ I would also add Iceland to the list. It may have fewer geysers but it has a lot more volcanic eruptions and a lot of geothermal energy is used for power generation. It is where the Mid Atlantic Ridge intersects a (possibly dieing) mantle plume. $\endgroup$
    – winwaed
    Apr 16, 2014 at 18:41

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