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Park visitors hope to catch Steamboat Geyser eruption after recent activity

Posted at 2:02 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-26 18:07:12-04

Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world, erupted again Monday morning about 5:15 a.m.

This is the fourth time Steamboat has erupted this month, and people are flocking to Yellowstone, hoping to get a lucky break and be there when the highly sporadic feature goes off.

Park officials admit to MTN News that the eruption of Steamboat Geyser is really more of a social phenomenon than a geological event.

Wendy Stovall, a scientist at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory says the eruption is cool and somewhat unusual, but in geological terms, it’s just part of what happens in Yellowstone.

Try telling that to someone who has never seen Steamboat erupt. They’re flocking to Norris in the hope they’ll be here when it goes off again.

“We see these communities of people that are there, excited to see an eruption, and if it happens, there’s just sheer joy and excitement,” said Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Morgan Warthin.

An eruption of Steamboat is pretty special and worth seeing. Steam eruptions are more common, but are still a spectacle, shooting more than a hundred feet into the air at times.

The more rare water eruptions — and that’s what most people really want to see — are much more spectacular. A major water eruption can shoot 300 feet in the air, last 3 to 40 minutes and leave the parking lot a quarter mile away filled with stone, mud and clay debris.

Scientists at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory say an eruption pattern has now been established. Steamboat is currently going off every 5 to 10 days. Great. So now you can make plans to catch it, right? Not so fast.

Here’s the rub: scientists have no idea when the eruptions will stop. So, the last one may have already happened, or maybe not. No one knows.

“The only constant in Yellowstone is change. Old Faithful is our only constant geyser at this point, and certainly, Steamboat is not,” said Warthin.

But Steamboat is not the only thermal feature undergoing change this year. At the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful, 30 miles south of Norris, there’s also activity.

Last week Ear Spring, a normally quiet hot pool, began shooting water 20 to 30 feet in the air. At the same time, a crack formed under a boardwalk in the same area with water steadily bubbling underneath. The ground in the area began to move up and down.

Scientists called it breathing, as the ground over about an 8-foot area began moving up and down about six inches over a ten minute period. The boardwalk has been closed to protect park visitors, but researchers say, in spite of what some social media sites claim, the recent changes have little to do with the slumbering volcano beneath Yellowstone.

Stovall says thermal features occur tens to hundreds of feet underground while the magma that drives the volcano lies 3 to 5 miles underground and the two systems are not directly connected.

With 20 eruptions so far this year, Steamboat is closing in on its peak set more than 50 years ago when it went off 29 times in 1964. That was part of a particularly active period for Steamboat. It erupted 26 times in 1963 and 22 times in 1965 before going dormant until 1982 when it went off 23 times.

So take a shot at visiting Steamboat yourself; you could hit it just right and see the rare sight of a major eruption of the world’s biggest active geyser. Just be prepared to wait a long time to get a parking place at the Norris Geyser Basin.

WATCH: Growth of a thermal feature in Yellowstone – a timelapse experience

Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News