The 2018 reawakening and eruption dynamics of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser

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Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin began a prolific sequence of eruptions in March 2018 after 34 y of sporadic activity. We analyze a wide range of datasets to explore triggering mechanisms for Steamboat’s reactivation and controls on eruption intervals and height. Prior to Steamboat’s renewed activity, Norris Geyser Basin experienced uplift, a slight increase in radiant temperature, and increased regional seismicity, which may indicate that magmatic processes promoted reactivation. However, because the geothermal reservoir temperature did not change, no other dormant geysers became active, and previous periods with greater seismic moment release did not reawaken Steamboat, the reason for reactivation remains ambiguous. Eruption intervals since 2018 (3.16 to 35.45 d) modulate seasonally, with shorter intervals in the summer. Abnormally long intervals coincide with weakening of a shallow seismic source in the geyser basin’s hydrothermal system. We find no relation between interval and erupted volume, implying unsteady heat and mass discharge. Finally, using data from geysers worldwide, we find a correlation between eruption height and inferred depth to the shallow reservoir supplying water to eruptions. Steamboat is taller because water is stored deeper there than at other geysers, and, hence, more energy is available to power the eruptions.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The 2018 reawakening and eruption dynamics of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser
Series title PNAS
DOI 10.1073/pnas.2020943118
Volume 118
Issue 2
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description e2020943118, 10 p.
Country United States
State Wyoming
Other Geospatial Norris Geyser Basin, Steamboat Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
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