YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Steamboat Geyser has had its 32nd major eruption of the year, another record.
Steamboat’s previous record was 29 major eruptions in 1964.
“These are fickle entities,” said Yellowstone National Park geologist Jeff Hungerford.
Before it sprang back to life on March 15 of this year, Steamboat had only erupted four times in the previous 15 years.
“Most geysers are not predictable, like Old Faithful and Grand and other geysers are,” Hungerford said.
The last record in 1964 occurred just a few years after the massive 1959 Quake Lake earthquake that claimed 36 lives. This year’s activity at Steamboat follows the Maple Creek swarm of more than a thousand small earthquakes in 2017.
“Seismicity acts as a sort of conduit cleaner or vent cleaner or plumbing cleaner,” said Hungerford.
According to Hungerford, shaking the ground around geysers can also change the flow of underground water.
“We are learning about the underground plumbing. We have a lot of work to do in understanding how all these geysers are connected,” he said.
That work is aided by one of the densest arrays of seismic monitors at any thermal site in the world. That, combined with other monitors and even satellite imagery is beginning to paint a picture of what’s happening underground.
“Right now we have a coarse idea in some areas of what is going on underneath,” Hungerford said.
Someday, scientists hope to have a complete map of Yellowstone’s underground thermal systems. Hungerford won’t predict how soon that may happen but says scientists are hard at work on building that definitive geyser map.
- Reported by John Sherer