The Steamboat Geyser holds the record for the tallest active geyser in the world, so when it starts acting unusually, it becomes news. The Steamboat has always been quite erratic with its eruptions as geysers are known to be. Sometimes many years pass between two eruptions, but that’s not the case recently. Since March 15, there have been eight major eruptions – and scientists are intrigued by the change.
The website for the US Geological Survey states that the “Steamboat has proven more active during the early 21st century than any time since the early 1980s. Between late 1991 and 2000, there were no large eruptions. However, since May 2000, Steamboat has had 10 significant eruptions.”
Historically, Steamboat’s jets have reached heights of 90-100 meters (295-330 feet). None of these eight 2018 eruptions have been as tall as the ones from the past, but they remain spectacular.
The first three eruptions were not witnessed by humans, and researchers estimated their properties from instruments they have on site. Without the sensors (and the mud streaks) around the geysers, they would be none the wiser. The two April eruptions are estimated to have released between 200 and 400 cubic meters of water each – about 10 times the volume of water released by Old Faithful when it erupts.
The Steamboat is located in an area of the park known as the Norris Geyser Basin, which is notorious for being a particularly hot location with high thermal variability. It is located at two major fault lines that intersect with the ring fracture zone that delineates the Yellowstone caldera. Norris experiences week-long changes in water level, color, pH, and temperature. The erupting patterns are affected by these changes, although the exact link to the increasing eruptions of Steamboat has so far eluded researchers.
“It’s unclear why this happened, but the Norris area is known for having thermal changes over time,” Michael Poland, lead scientist at the US Geological Survey’s Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, previously told IFLScience. “Steamboat’s eruption pattern is quite random, so it’s entirely possible that the eruptions had nothing to do with the disturbance.”
While the last few months have been an exciting period for the geyser, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. In 1964, Steamboat erupted 29 times. Yellowstone continues to fascinate the world with its intriguing volcanic activity. The Yellowstone Caldera is one of the world’s supervolcanoes, although we are in no immediate danger from it.