How Healthy is Yellowstone? 2013 Vital Signs


Every few years officials and scientists take a close look at the “health” of Yellowstone National Park, including animals, climate change and cultural resources. The data is then compiled in the “Natural Resource Vital Signs.” This year the report takes into account the results from more than 24 indicators like wildland fire, the status of native species, wildlife disease and invasion of non-native species. Each of these factors has an impact on the overall ecological status and the condition of natural resources, reports Yellowstone Gate.

The Vital Signs report highlights the following about Yellowstone’s ecosystem drivers and environmental quality.


In recent decades, precipitation has been declining while temperatures have been increasing. Less snowpack is seen because of the warmer temperatures. Snowy conditions have been lasting for a shorter duration


Since 1988, fire activity has fluctuated from year to year from less than one acre up to nearly 29,000 acres. Fires are likely to burn larger areas during drier summers

Geothermal Systems

Hydrothermal systems may be affected by energy and ground water development in the greater Yellowstone area. So far no increasing or decreasing trends in chloride indicate that surface water, groundwater or hydrothermal systems are in danger

Subsurface Geology

Roughly 698 earthquakes occurred in the Yellowstone area in 2011, compared to 670 in 2011 and 3,254 in 2010. Measurements have shown that parts of the Yellowstone caldera have been rising up to 7 cm per year since 2004

Water Quality

Most monitored water sites meet or exceed the national and state quality standards

Air Quality

Data collected by the NPS Air Resources Division indicate that Yellowstone meets its required high standards for air quality. However, nitrogen in precipitation has gone up with the usage of ammonium ion concentrations in fertilizer and feedlots.

Ozone concentrations peak in the spring, not the summer, which suggests influence from humans is not as significant as that from “atmospheric circulation” and longer days.

Winter air quality has improved since 2002 with fewer snowmobiles in the park and the “Best Available Technology” (BAT) requirement. Nitrogen deposition is becoming problematic because BAT vehicles emit high levels of nitrogen dioxide.


Wolf hunting patterns. Photo courtesy Public Library of Science

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Yellowstone Wolf Howling

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Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace.

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Things will die off. Other things will come in. Yellowstone could go from a forest to a sagebrush prairie. Draught could affect the geysers.

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West Yellowstone businessman believes snowmobiles should be allowed in the Park if resources are protected through the use of guides and snowcoaches.

Bison looking at the camera.

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Magma plume

How the Yellowstone Caldera Formed

The Yellowstone caldera was formed after an explosion of magma nearly 600,000 years ago.


Major Fires Burning in Yellowstone

August 2013: Three large fires and a collection of smaller blazes are burning in Yellowstone National Park. The Alum Fire, Alder Fire, and Druid Fire.

Momma grizzly and her cub on May 15, 2014 near Daisy Geyser

Man Killed by Grizzly in Yellowstone Aug 2015

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Yellowstone Snowmobile

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Yellowstone National Park has proposed new guidelines for winter use of snowmobiles and snowcoaches within park borders.