Abstract

The brilliant visible colors of various hot springs and pools in Yellowstone National Park are explained with a combination of scattering from the water and from microbial mats that coat the bottoms of these thermal features. A simple 1D radiative transfer model was used to simulate the colors recorded in visible photographs and the spectrum of light making up these colors. The model includes attenuation in water by absorption and molecular scattering as well as reflection characteristics of the microbial mats and surface reflection of the water. Pool geometries are simulated as simple rough cones scaled to have depths and widths that match published data. Thermal images are also used to record the spatial distribution of water skin temperature. The measurements and simulations confirm that colors observed from shallow-water features arise primarily from the spectral properties of the microbial mat, which is related to the water temperature, while colors observed from deeper water arise primarily from the wavelength-dependent absorption and scattering in the water.

© 2014 Optical Society of America

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