Yellowstone’s Steamboat Geyser awakens doesn’t mean a large volcano



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The Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park lay idle for more than three years before waking up in 2018 and has since erupted 129 times – sparking concern that it could lead to the ‘big’ volcanic.

A team from the University of California at Berkeley set out to uncover the truth beneath the world’s tallest active geyser and found little evidence of magma movement, which is key to an eruption.

Researchers collected data from geysers around the world and found that due to the size of the Steamboat, the geyser stores a large amount of water which provides energy to propel explosions. It has a tank about 82 feet underground and a column 377 feet high.

The study also determined that precipitation and snowmelt may have played a role in the activation, as groundwater pressure pushed more water into the reservoir which provided additional hot water. to burst more frequently.

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Researchers have found little evidence of movement of magma, which is the key to an eruption, hidden beneath the Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone

Researchers have found little evidence of movement of magma, which is the key to an eruption, hidden beneath the Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone

The Steamboat geyser came back to life in March 2018, after its three-and-a-half-year sleep, releasing steam, mud and rocks into the air.

In 2018, it erupted 32 times, then recorded a record 49 eruptions in 2019 and 48 more times in 2020. Its previous record was 29 eruptions in 1964.

The increased activity caused fear among some scientists who believed it was a harbinger of possible explosive volcanic eruptions in the surrounding geyser basin.

The Yellowstone supervolcano hasn’t erupted in 70,000 years, but that doesn’t deter experts from watching closely for any indication that the “ big ” may appear soon.

The Steamboat geyser came to life in March 2018, after its three-and-a-half-year sleep, releasing steam, mud and rocks into the air.  In 2018, it erupted 32 times, then recorded a record 49 eruptions in 2019 and 48 more times in 2020. Its previous record was 29 eruptions in 1964.

The Steamboat geyser came to life in March 2018, after its three-and-a-half-year sleep, releasing steam, mud and rocks into the air. In 2018, it erupted 32 times, then recorded a record 49 eruptions in 2019 and 48 more times in 2020. Its previous record was 29 eruptions in 1964.

The research team took into account that the seismicity of the ground around the geyser increased somewhat before the reactivation of the geyser.  The area gives off more heat to the atmosphere, but the temperature of the groundwater propelling the Steamboat eruptions has not increased.

The research team took into account that the seismicity of the ground around the geyser increased somewhat before the reactivation of the geyser. The area gives off more heat to the atmosphere, but the temperature of the groundwater propelling the Steamboat eruptions has not increased.

Michael Manga, professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California-Berkeley and lead author of the study, said: “ Hydrothermal explosions – basically hot water that explodes because it enters in contact with hot rocks – are one of the greatest dangers in Yellowstone. “.

“The reason they are problematic is that they are very difficult to predict; it is not clear if there are any precursors that would allow you to warn.

Manga and his team took into account that the ground around the geyser increased and the seismicity increased somewhat before the geyser reactivated.

The area gives off more heat to the atmosphere, but that did not trigger the awakening of the other dormant geysers in the basin.

The team also notes that the temperature of the groundwater propelling the Steamboat eruptions has not increased.

“We can’t find any evidence that a big eruption is brewing. I think that’s an important thing to take away, ”Manga said.

Manga and his team set out to answer three questions about Steamboat: “Why did he wake up? Why is its period so variable, ranging from 3 to 17 days? and why does it shoot up so high? They were able to find answers together.

The team collected height measurements from 11 different geysers in the United States, Russia, Iceland and Chile with the estimated depth of the water reservoir from which their eruptions originated.

They found that the deeper the reservoir, the higher the eruption jet.

They found that the deeper the reservoir, the higher the eruption jet.  Steamboat Geyser, with a reservoir about 82 feet underground, has the tallest column of 377 feet.  This allows the tank to fill with more water to fuel more blowouts

They found that the deeper the reservoir, the higher the eruption jet. Steamboat Geyser, with a reservoir about 82 feet underground, has the tallest column of 377 feet. This allows the tank to fill with more water to fuel more blowouts

Steamboat Geyser, with a reservoir about 82 feet underground, has the tallest column of 377 feet.

“What you’re really doing is you fill a container, it hits a critical point, you empty it, and you run out of liquid that can burst until it fills up again,” Manga said.

“The deeper you go, the higher the pressure. The higher the pressure, the higher the boiling temperature.

“And the hotter the water, the more energy it has and the higher the geyser.

To explore the reasons for the variability of Steamboat Geyser, the team gathered records related to 109 eruptions dating back to its reactivation in 2018.

Melting snow and rain added groundwater pressure which provided more hot water for the eruptions.

Melting snow and rain added groundwater pressure which provided more hot water for the eruptions.  Pictured is a steamboat erupting on August 22, 2020

Melting snow and rain added groundwater pressure which provided more hot water for the eruptions. Pictured is a steamboat erupting on August 22, 2020

The data included meteorological and streamflow statistics, seismometer and ground deformation readings, and public observations.

They also looked at the previous active and dormant periods of Steamboat and nine other geysers in Yellowstone, as well as data on thermal emissions at the ground surface of the Norris Geyser Basin.

After sifting through the file, the team concluded that precipitation and snowmelt contributed to the variable period.

Melting snow and rain added groundwater pressure which provided more hot water for the eruptions.

Manga and his team were unable to determine why Steamboat Geyser restarted on March 15, 2018, after three years and 193 days of inactivity, although the geyser is known to be much more variable than Old Faithful, which typically fires around every hour. the 90 days. minutes.

COULD A SUPERVOLCANO YELLOWSTONE ERUPTION BE PREVENTED?

Previous research has found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper crustal magma reservoir, below the surface

Recent research has found a small chamber of magma, known as the upper crustal magma reservoir, below the surface

NASA believes that drilling up to 10 km into the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park to pump water at high pressure could cool it down.

Despite the fact that the mission would cost $ 3.46 billion (£ 2.63 billion), NASA considers it “the most viable solution”.

Using heat as a resource also offers an opportunity to pay for a plan – it could be used to create a geothermal power plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $ 0.10 (0, £ 08) per kWh.

But this method of harnessing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcanic eruption that NASA is trying to prevent.

“Drilling the top of the magma chamber” would be very risky “; however, careful drilling of the lower sides might work.

This USGS graphic shows how a `` super eruption '' of molten lava beneath Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

This USGS graphic shows how a “ super eruption ” of molten lava beneath Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

Even in addition to the devastating potential risks, Yellowstone’s cooling plan with drilling is not straightforward.

This would be an extremely slow process that would occur at a rate of one meter per year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to completely cool it down.

And yet there would be no guarantee that it would be successful for at least hundreds, if not thousands of years.

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