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

Geyser Wire
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Yellowstone Gate

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 ...
Tom Ross: CMC biology professor witnesses aftermath of rare geothermal eventSteamboat Pilot & Today
What would happen if the Yellowstone supervolcano actually erupted?Vox

all 5 news articles »

Steamboat Geyser unexpectedly erupted last week in Yellowstone
County 10
(Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.) – The largest geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupted this past Wednesday evening at 11 p.m., according to Rosa Prasser, a park ranger, who was in the area and saw the eruption. The geyser is located at the Norris ...
World's tallest geyser erupts in Yellowstone, delights visitorsCody Enterprise
World's tallest geyser unexpectedly erupts in YellowstoneIdaho Press-Tribune

all 4 news articles »
Sky Valley Chronicle

Yellowstone 'Super Eruption' Could Blanket US in Ash, Study Finds
USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1976). Yellowstone National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1976). Region of geysers, Castle Geyser C.DANI and I.JESKE—De Agostini/Getty Images ...

all 77 news articles »
Fox News

Smackdown: Yellowstone vs. Yosemite—America's best national park
Fox News
America's best national park: Who ya got? Half Dome or Old Faithful? Yellowstone's towering geysers or Yosemite's majestic waterfalls? The bald eagles and buffalo herds in Yellowstone, or the black bear and bighorn sheep of Yosemite? Two of America's ...

Norris Geyser Basin
Casper Star-Tribune Online
Named for Philetus Norris, who served as Yellowstone National Park superintendent from 1877 to 1882, Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone's hottest and most-changing geyser basin. Norris features more than two miles of trails and boardwalks, which allow ...

Fatal Yellowstone quake of '59 buries campground
Great Falls Tribune
A Yellowstone National Park worker at the time, Gay Beck Copenhaver recounted for Gibson that the Old Faithful area was in chaos as tourists and staff tried to figure out what to do. Only the California tourists, more familiar with earthquakes, seemed ...

We are all tourists on the same bus
Rexburg Standard Journal
Once, while taking a tour group through Yellowstone Park, we stopped at Norris Geyser Basin. My passengers were all Americans, a virtual melting pot, and they were all getting along famously. As I listened to the bus group ahead as we mingled on the ...

Environmental Technologies' class prepares for Yellowstone trip
Piqua Daily Call
“At Old Faithful, I have a speaker who will explain to you the different kinds of geysers,” said Metz pointing out the location on the large tan, white and green map opened before the students. Additionally, speakers such as nationally known Chief of ...

and more »

Slideshow: Yellowstone Minute Out In It videos
Billings Gazette
Great horned owls live in Alaska, Florida and virtually everywhere in-between, but people rarely get to see them because they mostly hunt at night. This spring, a pair of owls delighted crowds in Mammoth Hot Springs when they established a visible nest ...

Yellowstone tourist donations top $1 million
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Visitors have shown how much they value Yellowstone National Park – to the tune of $1 million. On Sunday, the Yellowstone Park Foundation and Xanterra Parks & Resorts announced that since 2000, hotel guests have donated $1 million toward the park, ...

and more »
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