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Grisly discovery in Yellowstone hot spring likely related to a death last month

Abyss Pool at Yellowstone National Park
(Image credit: Getty)

Officials investigating the discovery of a human foot in a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park have said they believe it may be related to a death at the park late last month, and do not suspect foul play.

A park employee made the gruesome discovery last Tuesday, when they noticed something floating in the Abyss Pool in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Rangers temporarily closed the area while investigations took place, but it was reopened on Thursday.

Now, the park has issued a statement (opens in new tab) giving an update on its investigations. "Evidence from the investigation thus far suggests that an incident involving one individual likely occurred on the morning of July 31, 2022, at Abyss Pool," the park says. "Currently, the park believes there was no foul play. The investigation is continuing to determine the circumstances surrounding the death."

Can a person 'dissolve'?

Yellowstone is known for its stunning geothermal features. Boardwalks and trails are in place to keep hikers at a safe distance, but not everyone heeds the warnings and there have been at least 20 deaths related to the park's hot springs and pools.

In 2016, a man named Colin Scott died at Yellowstone after straying off the boardwalk looking for a warm pool to bathe in. As HuffPost (opens in new tab) reports, Scott accidentally fell into the Norris Geyser Basin, which is the park's hottest geothermal feature. Scott died soon after falling, but bad weather meant his body couldn't be recovered until the following day, by which time all that remained were a pair of melted flip-flops.

It's easy to see parallels between this case and the recent discovery at Abyss Pool, but as Live Science (opens in new tab) explains, conditions at the two water features are very different. While the Norris Geyser Basin is strongly acidic, Abyss Pool is alkaline. While strong alkaline solutions can destroy organic tissue by breaking down disulphide bonds (the chemistry involved in alkaline hydrolysis body disposal (opens in new tab)), the pH at Abyss Pool is nowhere near high enough for that to take place.

It seems more plausible that last week's discovery was the result of normal decomposition, accelerated by the heat of the pool.

The park says it has no further information to add at the moment, and the investigation by law enforcement officers is ongoing.

Cat Ellis
Editor

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).