Officials say dire warnings about gases in Yellowstone are hot air

Posted at 3:07 PM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-21 17:08:47-04

Some publications in Britain are warning that people could be killed just by visiting some of Yellowstone National Park’s most popular sights.

Online and in print for the world to see: a dire warning from scientists about dangerous gases from volcanic features in Yellowstone. Gases that could kill you. Could it happen?

“When you’re in depressions, closed depressions, and there’s low winds to clean thing out, that’s when gases can accumulate,” said Michael Poland with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

That would be a yes. But wait — don’t go canceling any Yellowstone plans you have just yet. Let’s get to the bottom of this first.

“It’s really nothing to worry about in terms of the big geyser basins. No tourists have ever succumbed to this sort of thing,” Poland said.

So where do these dire stories come from?

According to Poland, “Obviously in Yellowstone we know they can be dangerous from these episodes where animals have unfortunately succumbed.”

More than 120 years ago, in 1897, a geologist found dead grizzly bears, elk and other animals near thermal features.

Back in 1939, a road construction worker went down in a pit to take soil samples for a road project. But he was overcome by gases. Another worker slid down a rope to help him. That worker was also overcome and died.

“Well, the main types of gases that we’re able to measure very easily are hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide,” Poland said.

Both can kill in high concentrations, and while you can notice the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, you’ll never notice carbon dioxide until it’s too late. But the places people visit in the park really aren’t a problem.

“It’s not coming out of one focused area. It’s coming out of a huge, broad area. This is one of the reasons that it’s not quite as hazardous as it would be if you took all of that gas and put it into one place. That would be quite hazardous,” Poland said.

So, visiting your favorite thermal sights in the park is likely to be pretty safe. After all, no tourist has ever had a fatal encounter with gases here.

Reporting John Sherer for MTN News