There's a Fresh Geyser Mystery in Yellowstone

It's unclear why the Steamboat Geyser had a record year
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2019 9:20 AM CST
Steamboat Geyser's Eruptions Are Perplexing
Steamboat Geyser.   (Getty Images)

It's the tallest active geyser on the planet—with an emphasis on "active." NPR takes a look at Yellowstone's Steamboat Geyser and the unusual and perplexing year it has had. From 2015 to 2017, it didn't erupt at all. There was another largely quiet period from 1911 to 1961, reports USA Today. But in 2018 it logged a record-setting 32 eruptions, a feat it has crushed this year with 47 eruptions, per the US Geological Survey. Why? Good question, and one that hasn't been answered. It's one on a long list of geyser mysteries, in fact. The geyser-research field is a thin one, and as Yellowstone National Park's hydrologist explains to NPR, the area beneath Steamboat hasn't been mapped. However, seismic sensors there have revealed that the geyser's water source may sit as deep as 130 feet.

Most other geysers seem to be fueled by shallower reserves; deeper equals warmer, so that could be a factor in Steamboat's ability to propel water to heights of more than 300 feet. Per CNN, Michael Poland with the USGS earlier this year said it's possible that increased snowfall in Yellowstone of late has led to more groundwater to fuel the geyser. What scientists are saying is that there's no link between the increased activity and any potential looming eruption of Yellowstone's supervolcano. "Yellowstone has an incredible geyser system that is unrelated to magmatic activity—other than the magmatic system basically providing heat," tweeted one volcanologist. USA Today notes that the Waimangu Geyser in New Zealand has managed to shoot water taller than Steamboat has, but it's been more than a century since it has erupted. (More geyser stories.)

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