Why Popular Montana Attraction is not a Volcano (We Hope)
Much appreciation to my friend Brett French, the outdoor editor of the Billings Gazette, for giving me one less thing to worry about in 2021.
According to Brett, you can leave your lava-proof suits at home when you visit Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Brett tells us that scientists recently published a study trying to answer questions about why Steamboat came back to life in 2018. One theory was that molten rock under the surface was the cause. If that were the case, a volcanic eruption or hot water explosion could be possible. Luckily, the study ruled that out. The scientists also disproved other theories, like wet years contributing water for eruptions. The water coming from the geyser is actually very old and comes from deep within the earth.
Steamboat is the tallest geyser in the world. It can pump out as much as a quarter of an Olympic-sized swimming pool in one eruption. So why was the study able to answer why Steamboat shoots water more than 115 meters into the sky?
Water in Steamboat is stored deeper than in other geysers, resulting in increased energy to power taller eruption plumes. That’s because the deeper underground the water is stored, the hotter the water. The hotter the water, the more energy it has to drive eruptions. Pressure also increases with depth. Because the geyser has been so active, the scientists were also able to chart the intervals between eruptions, which are shorter in the summer and longer in the winter.
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