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Yellowstone's Morning Glory pool (Image Credit: WikiMedia Commons)

Yellowstone’s Morning Glory pool (Image Credit: WikiMedia Commons)

The natural splendor of Yellowstone National Park may be what people flock to see, but the tourism is becoming a force of nature itself. Amidst narcissistic self portraits and a penchant for trying to feed Yogi Bear, you’ll routinely encounter tourists throwing lucky coins, stones or just straight-up garbage into the many natural springs.

A recent report shows exactly what kind of damage that can cause.

The Morning Glory spring is one particular example, as scientists have recreated what the spring looked like nearly 70 years ago. Once a fathomless gradient of vibrant blue depth, it is now mostly green with a gradient to yellow as the pool becomes more shallow.

Give people a resplendent natural beauty, and people will throw crap in it until it changes color. Nice.

The minerals from coins, rocks and miscellaneous material have caused bacteria to grow and change the way light is refracted in the pool, thereby changing the perceived color to onlookers.

It all comes down to microbes, which in shallow water cause the water to appear yellow. But as the water gets deeper, “you see this yellow to green transition,” says Paul Nugent, a Ph.D. student at Montana State and lead author of the study. Water scatters high-energy light at the blue end of the spectrum more than lower energy light associated with warmer tones. Lower energy light, meanwhile, is filtered through absorption. Deeper water therefore appears greener, while shallow water appears yellower.

Morning glory pool in 1966. (Image Credit: William S. Keller)

Morning glory pool in 1966. (Image Credit: William S. Keller)

This is not the first time tourists have ruined a natural site (or at least perverted it beyond original recognition), not even in Yellowstone. At the turn of the 20th century, one of the most popular attractions of the park was the Handkerchief Pool, where tourists would throw their dirty handkerchiefs–filled with snot, grime, blood–into the swirling hot water, to have them spit back out much cleaner. Lovely! And surprise: the pool is now dormant.

Tour guides would also pour soap into geysers, as a way of expediting the natural reactions that result in eruption. All done to make sure that tourists wouldn’t be disappointed and would then tell their friends to come and see the amazing show.

For years, ecologists in Paris have been concerned over the bridge the Pont des Arts, where lovers lock padlocks with their names written on them to the metal grating of the bridge, then throw their keys into the river running through Paris. It’s not as though the floor of the Seine isn’t already covered in corpses and crashed cars, but the thousands of keys desperately signifying undying love and rusting at the bottom of the Seine releases all kinds of toxins into an already filthy water supply.

Tourism is not only the largest, growing worldwide industry it also accounts for five to twelve percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. From getting to where you want to go, the excess in resources for hotels and accommodations, to literal sewage being released into the ocean, maybe we should all just try a staycation.

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