The tallest active geyser in the world has just set another record.
The Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming erupted 47 times this year – compared to the 32 times in 2018.
Scientists speculate that the eruptions are related to heavy snows in Yellowstone, which created more groundwater to feed geysers and hot springs.
Steamboat has the accolade as the world’s largest geyser but is somewhat overshadowed by the fame and popularity of Old Faithful in the national park.
Erin White, Yellowstone National Park’s hydrologist, told NPR: ‘In the 1960s, there was another period where there were more than 20 eruptions per year.’
‘Prior to that, there were dormant periods of more than 50 years.’
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The tallest active geyser in the world has just set another record. The Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming erupted 47 times this year – compared to the 32 times in 2018
Steamboat – which can shoot water more than 300 feet into the air – broke a record in August when it erupted for the 33rd time.
And just when experts thought it could not get any better, the geyser shot off 14 more times, bringing the total number of eruptions this year to 47, according to the US Geological Survey.
Prior to this year’s record the giant geyser had laid dormant, which is why scientists are baffled by its recent numerous bursts of hot water and steam.
Michael Poland, the USGS scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, wrote in an email to CNN earlier this year that there could be a few possibilities why Steamboat broke was so active this year.
Scientists speculate that the eruptions are related to heavy snows in Yellowstone, which created more groundwater to feed geysers and hot springs. Steamboat broke a record in August when it erupted for the 33rd time
One reason could be that previous years of heavy snow in Yellowstone created more groundwater to feed geysers and hot springs.
Poland told CNN that ‘the Steamboat Geyser is starting to erupt more frequently just as spring snowmelt is at its peak.’.
In 1969, Steamboat went off 29 times. Once, it stood quiet and silent for 50 years, lying dormant between 1911 and 1961. It can be months or years between blasts, making its eruptions highly anticipated.
Old Faithful, on the other hand, erupts predictably, 91 minutes after a blast longer than two-and-a-half minute blast, or 65 minutes after a blast shorter than two-and-a-half minutes, and has been called the most predictable geographical feature on Earth.
So why are the two geysers in the same park so different?
Scientists conducting studies with remote-sensing instruments that monitor underground activity still aren’t sure what motivates Steamboat’s eruptions.
The Steamboat Geyser is located at Yellowstone National Park in the north-west area of Wyoming
‘Most geysers are non-predictable,’ Shaul Hurwitz told LiveScience.
‘Those that are predictable, like Old Faithful, are quite rare.’
Geologists believe that geysers like Old Faithful have a narrow conduit that leads from an underground cavern.
Before it erupts, water and steam gather in the cavern and when the pressure becomes too great, steam shoots water through the conduit and out into the air.
Park geologist Hank Heasler said that Yellowstone’s geysers are fed by an underground plumbing network where the park’s volcano heats the water and forces it to the surface.
So far, however, the force that decides that it’s showtime for Steamboat has eluded geologists.
They’ve tried to link Steamboat’s eruptions to external forces, such as earthquakes, but no link has been evident.
COULD AN ERUPTION AT THE YELLOWSTONE SUPERVOLCANO BE PREVENTED?
Recent research found a small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface
Nasa believes drilling up to six miles (10km) down into the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park to pump in water at high pressure could cool it.
Despite the fact that the mission would cost $3.46 billion (£2.63 billion), Nasa considers it ‘the most viable solution.’
Using the heat as a resource also poses an opportunity to pay for plan – it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10 (£0.08) per kWh.
But this method of subduing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcanic eruption Nasa is trying to prevent.
‘Drilling into the top of the magma chamber ‘would be very risky;’ however, carefully drilling from the lower sides could work.
This USGS graphic shows how a ‘super eruption’ of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States
Even besides the potential devastating risks, the plan to cool Yellowstone with drilling is not simple.
Doing so would be an excruciatingly slow process that one happen at the rate of one metre a year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to cool it completely.
And still, there wouldn’t be a guarantee it would be successful for at least hundreds or possibly thousands of years.