Yellowstone volcano: How ‘geyser gone BAD’ caused hydrothermal EXPLOSION

Yellowstone volcano, which last erupted 630,000 years ago, is located inside Yellowstone National Park. It is of great interest to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) because it is a supervolcano and has the potential to cause huge devastation in the US. Jacob Lowenstein, a leading scientist in charge of monitoring Yellowstone, revealed how one group got more than they expected during an exploration.

Speaking at a public lecture in 2014, Mr Lowenstein said: “Philetus Norris was the second superintendent at Yellowstone and he had the good fortune of witnessing a hydrothermal explosion. 

“It was a geyser gone bad – rocks were thrown into the air and he had a great quote about his experience.”

A hydrothermal explosion occurs when superheated water trapped below the surface of the Earth rapidly converts from liquid to steam.

Mr Lowenstein continued: “He said: ‘The pool was considerably enlarged, its immediate borders swept entirely clear of all movable rock. 

“‘Enough of which had been hurled or forced back to form a ridge from knee to breast high at a distance of 20 to 50 ft from the ragged edge of the yawning chasm.’

“A very alliterative quote, but essentially describing the hydrothermal explosion.”

Mr Norris, who in turn had the geyser named after him, was a key figure in establishing the Yellowstone National Park.

By the time he left in 1882, there were five times as many roads and twice as many trails. 

While superintendent, he published numerous reports on the mountain peaks and basins. 

However, he was not the only explorer to witness the force of Yellowstone first-hand.

In 1871, Ferdinand Vanderveer Hayden led a team of 50 keen geologists on the first exploration of the Yellowstone volcano.

Mr Lowenstein revealed during the same lecture how the team gathered information on the supervolcano.

He said in 2014: “Ferdinand Hayden was one of the people who ran the expedition that went through Yellowstone. 

“This was the group that eventually got the US Geological Survey started about ten years later. 

“Hayden brought along William Henry Jackson – a photographer – and Thomas Moran – a painter.

“They collected samples, they documented what they were seeing and they did it both through photography and paintings. 

“They were sent back to Washington and were instrumental in having Congress set aside Yellowstone as a national park.”

Mr Lowenstein also revealed how Mr Hayden realised it was a volcanic area. 

He added: “He recognised it was a volcanic area and he knew it was not too long in the geologic past that it was active. 

“He put it a little bit older than it actually is and he also recognised that the hot springs and water were related to the volcanic system.

“He and his colleagues camped on the north side of Yellowstone Lake and they experienced another remarkable thing that we know about Yellowstone – there are a lot of earthquakes.

“They experienced what we now call an earthquake swarm, where they were awakened in the middle of the night by a series of shocks that shook the trees.”


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