Steamboat Geyser's Unusually High Eruption Activity in 2018
The world’s largest active geyser has erupted yet again. The Steamboat geyser found in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, erupted again on Sunday May 13th for the fifth time this year. Previous eruptions in 2018 happened in March, two in April, and before this one on May 4th. What’s generating the most interest in this recent string of eruptions is the fact that the scientific community is baffled. Up to now, there have been no credible explanations as to why the sudden increase in activity.
Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser and during a major eruption, scalding hot water can be launched nearly 300 feet in the air. The eruptions, however, do not follow a predictive cycle such as its sister geyser does. Old Faithful, also in Yellowstone National Park, erupts predictably every 44 to 125 minutes, and has done so for nearly 20 years. Steamboat Geyser goes through lengthy periods of dormancy; at one time it was dormant for nearly 50 years. It is located in the Norris Geyser Basin, the hottest and most unpredictable geyser basin in Yellowstone.
Geysers - A Quick Tutorial
Geysers are formed as groundwater seeps into ground and comes into contact with red-hot magma, where it becomes superheated. The expanding combination of steam and water erupts through vents or fissures in the earth’s surface, until the pressure below-ground is relieved. Often times, dangerously hot steam will continue to drift from the vent; sometime for days after an eruption. Because of the unpredictable nature of moving subterranean magma, it’s difficult to predict when the next eruption will happen. It’s this randomness that keeps scientists tied to the park. Volcanologists would be quick to point out that the fact that we are seeing water erupting as a good sign. If magma was rising to a point where a volcanic eruption was eminent, there would be no water. Geysers going dormant, especially the dependable Old Faithful, would indicate potential danger.
Geysers and Volcanic Activity - Possible Connections
Regardless of the science, there are already theories attempting to connect this surge in activity to the volcanic activity occurring in Hawaii. Volcanic activity in one active region can impact others, but making direct connections is challenging if not impossible. Since the park is home to the Yellowstone Caldera; a dormant supervolcano which measures 34 by 45 miles in surface area, many people have attempted to create a doom and gloom scenario and this strange pattern of geyser eruptions only adds unsubstantiated concern. Yellowstone is still considered active by the United States Geological Survey, but at the moment isn’t expected to erupt for at least 1,000 years. The last major eruption is estimated at 70,000 years ago.
Yellowstone National Park Official Site
- Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
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While many see this recent string of eruptions as concerning, others see it as a huge draw for summer tourists. The spike in activity lately is not considered dangerous or as cause for alarm. If you are planning to visit Yellowstone National Park, July is historically the peak month with about 24% of annual visits, followed by August and then June. In 2016, a record 4.257 million people visited the park. Last year 4.116 million visitors made the trek.
Visitors to Yellowstone Historically
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© 2018 Ralph Schwartz