JACKSON HOLE, WYO – With plenty of time left in 2018, the world’s tallest geyser just set a new record for itself: most eruptions in a calendar year.
Officials in Yellowstone National Park confirmed the magical 30th eruption of Steamboat Geyser on Saturday at 1:07am, making it the most times the geyser has blown its top in a year since it went off 29 times in 1964.
Steamboat got off to its start on March 15 of this year with the first eruption in three and a half years. Since then, the unpredictable feature has spewed to life a record 30 times in total.
Tucked away in the Norris Geyser Basin, Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser. Its major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet. Only Waimangu Geyser in New Zealand has rocketed to greater heights—but not in more than a hundred years.
In Yellowstone National Park’s recorded history, only two other geysers have exceeded Steamboat in size: Excelsior Geyser in Midway Geyser Basin and Sapphire Pool in Biscuit Basin. Steamboat’s minor and major eruptions are entirely unpredictable.
The water phase of a major Steamboat eruption can last anywhere from three minutes to 45 minutes. Once the water supply is exhausted, the geyser continues with a powerful steam phase lasting several hours to several days. Its roar is so great that conversation near the geyser is difficult, and visitors in the Norris Campground, a mile to the north, have been awakened by the noise.
Steamboat Geyser was dormant for quite some time through the 1900s. Then, after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake—a 7.5M event centered just outside the western boundary of Yellowstone—Steamboat seemed to be awakened.
Two years later, for the first time in 50 years, Steamboat Geyser erupted. Some scientists believe this rejuvenation was a direct result of thermal energy shifts caused by the 1959 earthquake; others say it was coincidental. A clear correlation between Steamboat’s eruptions and earthquake activity has never been proven.
Over the years, Steamboat’s eruptions have been sporadic. Some years saw frequent eruptions, such as 1982-83, when dozens of eruptions occurred. Quiet periods throughout the 1990’s and late 2000’s were marked by years of dormancy between single eruptions. One thing is known, Steamboat Geyser’s future eruptions will continue to be unpredictable.
While we have recently experienced a couple of major eruptions, these eruptions do not signify that Steamboat’s eruptions will be more frequent but rather are in line with Steamboat’s past history. The dynamic nature of this geyser basin, and the geology of Yellowstone as a whole, keeps everyone guessing.
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