- Geyserworld -
Alan Glennon, Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara


Geyser Wire
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Live Science

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Gallery: Probing Geysers in Yellowstone and Chile
Live Science
El Tatio (the grandfather) geyser in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile. With over 80 active geysers, the El Tatio field is the world's third-largest field, after Yellowstone and Dolina Geizerov in Russia, according to a 2003 report in a Geological ...
Why do geysers erupt? Loops in their plumbingImperial Valley News
Science Briefs: Geysers, brain activity, sauna benefitsCharlotte Observer

all 5 news articles »
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The Columbian

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Geyser researcher provides insight into volcanic blasts
The Columbian
Michael Manga and his colleagues report on their findings in the February issue of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. They spent years studying geysers in Chile and at Yellowstone National Park. They found that geysers like Old ...

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Great Falls Tribune

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Prep sports: Tribune All-Sports Award standings
Great Falls Tribune
... Missoula Loyola 15, Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale 15, Missoula Sentinel 15, Jordan 14, Helena 13, Great Falls High (1) 12, Culbertson-Bainville (1) 12, West Yellowstone (1) 12, Missoula Big Sky 10, Florence-Carlton 10, Circle 10, Denton-Geyser-Stanford ...

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Yahoo News

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Why Do Geysers Erupt? It Boils Down to Plumbing
Yahoo News
To better understand the system hidden deep below the surface, Michael Manga, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has spent years studying geysers in Chile and Yellowstone National Park. "We're ... By placing temperature and ...

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Geographical

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North America's cauldron
Geographical
... the wildlife attractions, the winter landscape of Yellowstone is extraordinarily beautiful and unique. Popular locations include Mammoth Hot Springs for its steaming geothermal terraces, and the Upper Geyser Basin, famous for Old Faithful and other ...

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Financial Times

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Wyoming: where the wild flowers are
Financial Times
In Grand Teton and the nearby Yellowstone National Park the mountains are like shards of glass, the lakes reflect these mountains so exactly, and the shaggy bison wander the landscape, a pre-European contact-like vista. To come here is to ...

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Yahoo Travel

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Yellowstone NOW?! Why It's Actually a Great Idea
Yahoo Travel
Our merry band of nature lovers was bound for Old Faithful Snow Lodge, named for the park's famous geyser. It's one of two lodging options inside the park boundaries that are available during the winter months; the other is Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

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Malay Mail Online

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Feel the heat in New Zealand's Maori heartland
Malay Mail Online
It does look as if the end is near; here, the depths of the earth bubbles to the surface in pools of boiling mud and spitting geysers while angry smoke rises from countless crevices and the biggest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere cascades ...

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Daily Science Journal

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Kinks in the plumbing cause geysers to erupt in predictable ways
National Monitor
Over the past few years, Magna has studied geysers in Yellowstone and Chile as well as a synthesized geyser that he and his students constructed in a lab. The glass geyser allowed the researchers to carefully observe and even manipulate the geyser.
Study Reveals The Science Behind Periodic Eruptions Of GeysersDaily Science Journal
Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful Geyser Timing Secret Figured Out By ...The Inquisitr
Yellowstone's geyser Old Faithful erupts regularly 'because of loops in its ...International Business Times UK
Yellowstone Insider -Science World Report
all 36 news articles »
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Bike Magazine

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Crankworx Rotorua Enduro Highlights
Bike Magazine
As racers in the Crankworx Rotorua Enduro rolled out of the start gate in the geothermal valley near the town's famous Pohutu Geyser, evidence of the growing appeal of the enduro racing format abounded. Big-name World Cup DH racers such as Sam ...
French duo claim Enduro World Series opener in RotoruaNew Zealand Herald
Clementz and Chausson take Giant Toa Enduro winVoxy

all 6 news articles »
What are geysers and why are they so rare?
Last update: 9 August 2008

A geyser is a hot spring that periodically erupts, throwing water into the air. Though that sounds simple, geysers are extremely rare. As of August 2008, the total of active geysers on earth numbered approximately 1000.

Pink Cone Geyser, Yellowstone, photo by Alan Glennon Conditions must be just right for geysers to occur. Three components must be present for geysers to exist: an abundant supply of water, an intense source of heat, and unique plumbing. Water is common in nature, heat can come from volcanic activity, but the plumbing is critical. For water to be thrown into the air, geyser plumbing must be water- and pressure-tight. Geyser scientists and observers have identified the volcanic rock rhyolite as being particularly effective at hosting geysers. Rhyolite is high in silica, which can deposit a water-tight seal along the walls of the geyser plumbing. Most of the geyser fields in the world are found in rhyolite or similar silica-laden rocks (like ignimbrite). The mixture of water, volcanic heat, and plumbing is exceptional at Yellowstone National Park. Over one-half of the world's geysers are located within the park's boundaries.

It is increasingly apparent that geysers must possess a fourth characteristic to exist: remoteness. Within the last fifty years, volcanic heat and abundant water have been increasingly harnessed to turn turbines for electricity production. Geothermal energy can be produced at any site where volcanic heat and water are readily available. Unfortunately, geyser fields are ideal for this type of energy production. Geothermal energy production steals the geysers' water, and destroys geyser activity (for example, Wairakei, New Zealand). A growing threat to geysers stems from mineral extraction. Hot groundwater may precipitate gold or other valuable minerals, and extraction may require removing the geyser plumbing itself. For example, in May 2003, mineral exploration at South America’s second largest geyser field (Puchuldiza, Chile), caused cessation in the field’s geysers. Few realize the actual rarity of geysers. As a result, many geyser fields have been destroyed and many others are being threatened.

How do geysers work?

The following is an excerpt from Scott Bryan's GEYSERS OF YELLOWSTONE, 3rd edition, copyright 2001. It is reproduced here for educational purposes. Scott Bryan's book not only describes each Yellowstone geyser in detail, but also includes descriptions of geyser fields worldwide. It is probably the best book on geysers out there. Buy it or check it out!

The hot water, circulating up from great depth, flows into the plumbing system of a geyser. Because this water is many degrees above the boiling point, some of it turns to steam instead of forming liquid pools. Meanwhile, additional, cooler water is flowing into the geyser from the porous rocks nearer the surface. The two waters mix as the plumbing system fills.

Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone National Park, Photo by Alan Glennon The steam bubbles formed at depth rise and meet the cooler water. At first, they condense there, but as they do they gradually heat the water. Eventually, these steam bubbles rising from deep within the plumbing system manage to heat the surface water until it also reaches the boiling point. Now the geyser begins to function like a pressure cooker. The water within the plumbing system is hotter than boiling, but "stable" because of the pressure exerted by all the water lying above it. (Remember that the boiling point of a liquid is dependent upon the pressure. The boiling point of pure water 212 degrees Farenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at sea level. In Yellowstone the elevation is about 7,500 feet, the pressure is lower, and the boiling point of water is only about 199 degrees Farenheit (93 degrees Celsius).

The filling and heating process continues until the geyser is full or nearly full of water. A very small geyser may take but a few seconds to fill whereas some of the larger geysers take several days. Once the plumbing system is full the geyser is about ready for an eruption. Often forgotten but of extreme importance is the heating that must occur along with the filling. Only if there is an adequate store of heat within the rocks lining the plumbing system can an eruption last for more than a few seconds. Again, each geyser is different from every other. Some are hot enough to erupt before they are completely full and do so without any preliminary indications of an eruption. Others may be completely full well before they are hot enough to erupt and so may overflow quietly for some time before an eruption occurs. But, eventually, the eruption will take place.

Because the water of the entire plumbing system has been heated to boiling, the rising steam bubbles no longer collapse near the surface. Instead, as more very hot water enters the geyser at great depth, even more and larger steam bubbles form and rise toward the surface. At first, they are able to make it all the way to the top of the plumbing system. But a time will come when there are so many steam bubbles that they can no longer simply float upwards. Somewhere they encounter some sort of constriction or bend in the plumbing. To get by they must squirt through the narrow spot. This forces some water ahead of them and up and out of the geyser. This initial loss of water reduces the pressure at depth, lowering the boiling point of water already hot enough to boil. More water boils, forming more steam. Soon there is a virtual explosion as the steam expands to over 1,500 times its original, liquid volume. The boiling rapidly becomes violent and water is ejected so rapidly that it is thrown into the air.

The eruption will continue until either the water is used up or the temperature drops below boiling. Once an eruption has ended. the entire process of filling, heating, and boiling will be repeated, leading to another eruption.

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone - Alan Glennon 2004

In Depth


To reference this page, use the appropriate variation of the following format:

J. Alan Glennon. (2008) About Geysers, http://www.geyserworld.com, University of California, Santa Barbara, originally posted January 1995, updated August 9, 2008.

T. Scott Bryan (2001) The Geysers of Yellowstone, 3rd edition, University Press of Colorado: Boulder, pp.472.


For more information, contact:
J. Alan Glennon
Department of Geography
University of California
Santa Barbara, California 93106

e-mail: glennon(at)umail.ucsb.edu