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


Geyser Wire
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Tech Gen Mag

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The most dazzling hot springs of Yellowstone National Park
Tech Gen Mag
Spanning across 9,000 square kilometers, the park contains 10,000 geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Yellowstone itself is a massive ... in the northern temperate zone. Shown below are some of the most famous and beautiful hot springs and geysers in ...

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Snowshoe Magazine

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Mammoth Adventures in Yellowstone
Snowshoe Magazine
Undeniably, winter is the best time to visit Yellowstone. Geysers throw steaming water through the snow and into the robin egg sky. Elk and bison, followed ... Most of the roads in Yellowstone are closed to general traffic in winter. But the northern ...

and more »
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Philly.com

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Personal Journey: Her yurt yule in Yellowstone
Philly.com
Perhaps it was the image of the blackened, frostbitten ear that somehow kept popping up before my dream trip to cross-country ski in Yellowstone National Park that made me pause. Or, maybe the week of "unusually low historic temperatures ... which are ...


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Public opinion taken off-line on Yellowstone fees
Powell Tribune
Nancy Thompson of Manitoba, Canada, enjoys a walk through the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park on Oct. 25. It will likely cost more to enter the park next year, but comments on the proposed ... Unlike their counterparts in Grand Canyon ...

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The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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'Gabby's Spring': Thermal biology in the Yellowstone National Park backcountry
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Deep in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park lies a thermal pool nicknamed “Gabby Spring” by researchers from Montana State University's Thermal Biology Institute. The spring has a crystal blue center ringed by orange and green microbial mats.

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Vox

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World's tallest geyser erupts in Yellowstone
Billings Gazette
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world, delighted visitors to Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday, spewing steam high into the air in a rare and powerful eruption that lasted several minutes and ...
What would happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano actually erupted?Vox
Tom Ross: CMC biology professor witnesses aftermath of rare geothermal eventSteamboat Pilot & Today

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'Unguided' snowmobiles return to Yellowstone
Powell Tribune
A paid guide led this group of snowmobilers near Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin in February. Starting this winter, certain park visitors won't have to hire a guide — but they will have to follow a set of park rules. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco ...

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The Marysville Advocate

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Bucket list journey
The Marysville Advocate
“The Yellowstone country has waterfalls galore, mountains and meadows, geysers and mudpots,” Deb said. “I can only imagine the thoughts of the first trappers to see the country. Today, however, you can still float the Snake River like Lewis and Clark ...


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Ecological monitoring station proposed at Yellowstone
Reuters
The monitoring program at the park, where the introduction of brown and rainbow trout for sportfishing have contributed to the decline of native cutthroat, would require the addition of electric service to an area east of Mammoth Hot Springs and a ...
Ecological monitoring station to be built along YellowstoneBeta Wired

all 42 news articles »
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Casper Star-Tribune Online

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Petition filed to protect Yellowstone bison
Casper Star-Tribune Online
They say the Yellowstone animals face numerous threats. That includes a capture and slaughter program that has killed more than 3,600 bison since 2000 to prevent the spread of a disease carried by many bison. The groups requested an initial ruling ...

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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 Americas second largest geyser field (Puchuldiza, Chile), caused cessation in the fields 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