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Geothermal Heat Melting Road in Yellowstone

Jul 15, 2014 01:10 PM EDT
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Geothermal heat is melting the asphalt on Firehole Lake Drive, a popular road in Yellowstone National Park, forcing officials to close it down Thursday.

Part of the drive, a scenic one-way road off of Yellowstone's main loop, was shut down for repairs when oil bubbled to the surface, damaging the blacktop and creating unsafe driving conditions, the Park Service said in a statement. The closure doesn't affect the Grand Loop Road, which sees 20,000 visitors each day during the summer.

Park spokesman Dan Hottle told Live Science that Firehole Lake Drive's surface hit 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Celsius) on Thursday, about 30 degrees to 40 degrees F (17 to 22 degrees C) hotter than usual.

Combined with these warming temperatures, geothermal heat radiating from Yellowstone's underground supervolcano softened the 3.3-mile-long (5.3 kilometers) road.

Even though this kind of underground furnace may be concerning for some, Hottle notes that the road problems do not mean the volcano is showing signs of an impending eruption.

"The supervolcano is not going to blow," he said.

Road closures from heat damage, even on Firehold Lake Drive, actually aren't an unusual occurrence in Yellowstone - which has more than 10,000 geothermal features and 500 geysers. The park has previously closed the long and not-winding road for repairs due to heat damage.

"This road has had this particular issue in the past, but it doesn't happen too often," Hottle said.

The Park Service made plans to work on repairs over this past weekend, and hopes to reopen the road - which takes visitors past Great Fountain Geyser, White Dome Geyser and Firehold Lake - sometime early this week, according to the statement.

Within the next five years, the Park Service also plans to relocate a part of Grand Loop Road that takes visitors past Frying Pan Spring. "That area of the road is always buckled up and being repatched and repaired, so we're moving it away from the thermal area," Hottle added.

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