Geo-Notes: WSGS Spring Newsletter

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This cross-section illustration cutting southwest-northeast under Yelowstone depicts the view revealed by seismic imaging. Graphic by Hsin-Hua Huang, University of Utah.

Scientists discover deep magma reservoir below Yellowstone

Norris Geyser Basin

University of Utah scientists discovered a new magma reservoir underneath Yellowstone. The reservoir of partly molten rock is 12 to 28 miles beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano, and it is 4.4 times larger than the shallower, known magma chamber.

The discovery of an additional magma reservoir does not increase the risk of an eruption, says scientists. But they now have a better picture of Yellowstone’s volcanic system using new techniques and imaging.

This plumbing system supplies hot and partly molten rock from the Yellowstone hotspot to the supervolcano. The magma chamber, which lies on top of the reservoir, actually draws magma from the reservoir and is responsible for fueling the geysers of Yellowstone. This includes the Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas.

This new science will provide experts with a better understanding of these complex crustal systems. It will also help them to better understand Yellowstone's past eruptions (spanning 2 million years), some of the largest on earth! This research was published in the journal Science.

Wild beauty can spell geologic hazards


In Wyoming, beauty in nature abounds. But with that wild beauty can come natural hazards.

The major geologic hazards in the state are earthquakes and landslides. In 2014, there were 49 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 2.5 in Wyoming; 20 had magnitudes greater than 3.0, with 17 of those events in Yellowstone.

While earthquakes and landslides can pose a risk to people, property and infrastructure, Wyoming is fortunate to have such a rural population, minimizing this risk. However, it is important to have an understanding of the types of hazards we do have and where they have historically occurred, to be prepared. This is especially true for landslides during spring.

Landslides are most common during spring and early summer when a freeze-thaw process can cause soils to become unstable and rocks to fracture. Repeated freeze and thaw cycles can weaken the rock along those fractures, which can cause rock falls and landslides. To learn more about the types of landslides we have, log on to the WSGS Landslides page.

Check out the new WSGS Summary Report on Wyoming’s Geologic Hazards, with detailed information landslides as well as the state's historic earthquakes and Yellowstone.

WSGS to create next generation Oil and Gas Map

oil and gas ma[

WSGS oil and gas geologists are in the process of developing the next generation of the Oil and Gas Map of Wyoming. This map is one of the most popular products published by the agency, and in high demand by members of industry, researchers, policy makers and the general public.

Wyoming is a leading producer of oil and gas in the nation. The state ranks fifth in natural gas and eighth in oil. Nearly all of the state’s oil and gas is shipped via pipeline to market. Pipeline sizes, operators and locations are all illustrated on the map, along with other oil and gas data.

Geologists use geographic information system (GIS) technology to create various layers of information, from oil and gas geology to extractive activities. Other features on the map include:

  • Boundaries of producing and abandoned oil and gas fields in Wyoming
  • Producing (or produced) formations
  • Dominate age of reservoir rocks
  • Field designations
  • Refinery and gas plant locations and capacities
  • Basin locations
  • Extent of oil shale-bearing rocks
  • Railroads

The current version of the Oil and Gas Map of Wyoming is available as a free pdf download or for $50 in a large printed format via the WSGS catalog.

The agency also plans to create an online version of the oil and gas map, which will include additional spatial data not easily displayed on the paper version. The online map will be interactive with various layers of information to select for viewing.

For information, or if you have suggestions on the next generation of the Oil and Gas Map of Wyoming, please email Rachel Toner ( or Ranie Lynds (

Energy Infographic

WSGS saline waters report

While groundwater is an important freshwater resource, not all groundwaters are suitable for domestic, livestock or agricultural uses. Much of Wyoming’s groundwater contains concentrations of salts that exceed 10,000 parts per million (ppm). For comparison, seawater has a salt concentration of 35,000 ppm.   

A new WSGS study focuses on these saline waters, which naturally occur in numerous deep rock formations in the state. Saline groundwaters can be utilized for energy and industrial development. The WSGS is compiling water data to determine the locations of saline groundwater within each river basin.

A final report will detail saline waters and the formations that contain these waters. A series of maps will complement the study with locations of the areas within each basin where saline waters occur. This information will be particularly useful to energy resource and industrial developers that can use lower quality groundwater in their operations and better conserve Wyoming’s fresh groundwater resources. This report will be available this fall.

Phosphate study underway

The Meade Peak Shale Member of the Phosphoria Formation hosts many of the high-grade phosphate rock beds in Wyoming. WSGS photo by Brett Worman.

Phosphate rock is used to produce phosphorus fertilizer, an important and necessary component of industrial-scale agriculture. Demand for phosphate rock is projected to increase as the earth’s population grows. 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global fertilizer consumption will increase 25 percent by 2050. Wyoming is well situated to add to the global production of phosphates, as many of the state’s high-grade occurrences are located in the overthrust belt, relatively close to existing processing infrastructure in Rock Springs, Wyoming, as well as in southeastern Idaho and northeastern Utah.

Phosphates typically occur as the mineral apatite, and can be found in sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks. In Wyoming, the most important phosphate occurrences are hosted in the marine shales of the Permian Phosphoria Formation. Some igneous and metamorphic rocks rich in iron, titanium and/or the rare earth elements may also host significant phosphate occurrences. Relatively minor concentrations of phosphates occur in the lacustrine sediments of the Wilkins Peak Member of the Green River Formation.

This project seeks to highlight potentially economic phosphate occurrences throughout Wyoming. A compilation of historical data from phosphate deposits across the state will be supplemented with data from samples to be collected by WSGS geologists in spring and summer 2015.  X-ray diffraction and whole-rock geochemical analysis of these samples will be used to determine the amount and type of phosphates present. Results of this investigation will be published by the agency in November of 2015.

National Coal Resource Data System (NCRDS)


The WSGS is providing important data on the state’s coal resources to a central clearinghouse for the nation.

The National Coal Resource Data System (NCRDS) provides information on the location, quantity and physical and chemical characteristics of U.S. coal and coal-related deposits, a national database administered by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The WSGS has participated in this program for more than 30 years, along with other geological surveys in states with coal resources.

The mission of NCRDS is to collect stratigraphic and coal quality information about each state's coal resources and to upload the information into a national database for strategic information purposes. This database provides a central source of information used to determine the amount of coal remaining (in-place), as well as data on the types of coal, characteristics related to coal quality, and depth and thickness data. 

The WSGS has entered more than 26,000 points of stratigraphic information into the database, to date. Over 22,000 of those points are from coalbed methane wells in the Powder River Basin. WSGS coal geologists are currently working on an additional 6,000 points of information in the Great Divide Basin area of the Greater Green River Basin. These geologists are focused on the uraniferous coals of the Eocene Wasatch Formation and the mineable subbituminous coals of the Paleocene Fort Union Formation.

The National Coal Database System is available on the USGS website. The Wyoming portion of this national database will be available soon via the WSGS coal website.

WSGS cultural geology guide


The WSGS received a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund to create a cultural geology guide, designed for road travelers and online users.

The Origin of Landscape: A Guide to Wyoming's Cultural Geology will cover a niche area in tourism, intelligent travel. Users will be able to see and virtually explore the nexus between geological phenomena, landscape and cultural beginnings.

This program will include an interpretive guide (with mobile tags) along with its online counterpart, a website featuring stories, interactive maps, photos and videos of experts in the field.

This program is for residents and tourists who want to learn more about the landscape they are traveling through, and for anyone who wants to learn more about Wyoming's the culture and geology.

The WSGS, Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Office of Travel and Tourism have partnered for this intelligent travel program. The guide will be available at the state’s Visitors Centers this fall, along with the launch of the online program via the WSGS.

WSGS Newsletter Spring 2015

Wyoming Geo-Notes