Nestled in Yellowstone National Park, Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest currently-active geyser. And boasting a pair of vents, this unpredictable spring has been erupting at a “record pace” since March 2018, the USGS has confirmed.
A research paper released today has revealed what is responsible for Steamboat’s mysterious energetic eruptions.
USGS Yellowstone observers have counted 128 major eruptions taking place at the geyser between March 2018 and the end of last year.
The volcanologists wrote: “This may not seem very impressive at first — Old Faithful Geyser can erupt that many times in just under nine days — but for Steamboat, the true behemoth of geysers, it’s an incredible feat.”
Steamboat Geyer’s eruptions are frequently capable of spewing water 380ft (116m) into the skies over Yellowstone.
For comparison, the volume of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful eruption is typically a little less than 30 metres cubed.
What did surprise geologists was how the quantises of water erupted fro the Steamboat Geyser did not correlate with the interval before or after the eruption as it does for other like Old Faithful.
Numerous geological processes can affect geyser eruption intervals, such as earthquakes, extreme weather and an influx of water.
At Steamboat, there has been a slight seasonal effect, with longer intervals in the winter and shorter intervals in the summer.
The USGS report suggests this is most likely due to pressure changes in the Earth’s subsurface associated with groundwater recharge.
The geological survey said: “Streamflow can be used as a rough proxy for regional precipitation, and highly active years for Steamboat do not correlate with abnormally low or high average annual discharge in the Yellowstone River during 1960 to 2019.
“Earthquakes probably also had no role in Steamboat’s reactivation. Seismic swarms occurred west of Norris Geyser Basin in summer 2017 and February 2018, but none of the earthquakes shook the ground hard enough to affect geysers.
“No other geysers in Norris Geyser Basin reactivated during the uplift with the exception of Echinus Geyser’s brief active phase in late 2017, nor did chloride or sulphate concentrations, which might indicate an input of heat or gasses, increase in water exiting the geyser basin.”