- © 2014 UW Department of Geology and Geophysics
The Thermopolis hydrothermal system is located in the southern portion of the Bighorn Basin, in and around the town of Thermopolis, in northwest Wyoming. It is the largest hydrothermal system in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park. The system includes hot springs, travertine deposits, and thermal wells. Published models for the hydrothermal system propose the Owl Creek Mountains as the recharge zone, simple conductive heating at depth, and resurfacing of thermal waters up the Thermopolis Anticline.
The geochemistry of the thermal waters of three active hot springs—Big Spring, White Sulphur Spring, and Teepee Fountain—is similar in composition and characteristic of carbonate or carbonate-bearing siliciclastic aquifers. Previous studies of the Thermopolis hydrothermal system postulate that the thermal waters are a mixture of waters from Paleozoic formations. Major element geochemical analyses available for waters from these formations are not of sufficient quality to determine whether the thermal waters are a mixture of the Paleozoic aquifers. In the time frame of this study (one year), the geochemistry of all three springs was constant through all four seasons, spanning spring snowmelt and recharge as well as late-summer and fall dryness. This relationship is consistent with a deep source not influenced by shallow, local hydrogeology. Anomalies are evident in the historic data set for the geochemistry of Big Spring. We speculate that anomalies occurring between 1906 and 1926 suggest mixing of source waters of Big Spring with waters from a siliciclastic formation, and that anomalies occurring between 1926 and 1933 suggest mixing with waters from a formation containing gypsum or anhydrite. Decreased concentrations measured in our study—relative to concentrations measured between 1933 and 1976—may reflect mixing of thermal waters with more dilute waters. Current data are not sufficient to rigorously test these suggestions, and events of sufficient scale taking place in these timeframes have not been identified.