Friday, August 2, 2013

Yellowstone Geyser Erupts For First Time In 8 Years

Yellowstone National Park, and its enormous super volcano is home to more than half of the world's geothermal geysers. There are probably not a lot of people in the world who aren't familiar with the name "Old Faithful", one of the most famous geysers in the world, known for its punctual eruption timing, and spectacular steam and water spouts. Yellowstone on Wednesday got quite the surprise when one of it's less-reliable geysers had a sudden - and massive - burst of steam that rose nearly 400 feet into the air for about 40 minutes.

It has been 8 years since "Steamboat geyser" has erupted. It is one of the most random geysers in the park, and dwarfs the eruptions of "old Faithful" (to be clear, the term eruption refers only to hydrothermal activity, not magmatic in nature). Video on NBCnews.com shows the hastily recorded cell phone footage from surprised guests (unfortunately it's not terribly great, and you cannot see the beginning of the blast).

Yellowstone is home to 300 or more active or potentially active geysers, with even more hot springs, and other hydrothermal features. The last magmatic eruption of Yellowstone occurred somewhere around 1350 BCE, creating the Indian Pond crater. Some scientists believe Yellowstone is 'overdue' for a major eruption, but of course this is speculation, and very specific conditions would need to occur for a modern day super-eruption to take place. If an eruption does occur in the near future, it would likely be a small effusive, or minor explosive event, much like the Indian pond event.

The magma chamber that is the source for the geothermal heat in the are is vast, but cooling. It is made up of what scientists refer to as a 'crystal mush', or partially cooled lava. It would take a very large injection of fresh magma and gasses to initiate an eruption in Yellowstone, and no injections have been detected in recent time.

So for now, Yellowstone rises and falls, breathes in and out like a sleeping giant. 

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