Yellowstone's Giant Steamboat Geyser Is Going Quiet

Yellowstone National Park's famous Steamboat Geyser appears to be going quiet, without a single eruption recorded over August and just eight over the whole of 2022.

Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser, with its huge eruptions shooting water more than 300 feet into the air. It is one of over 500 geysers in Yellowstone.

Geysers have the potential to occur wherever there is heat, water, and a natural plumbing system formed by gaps in underground rock. When water from rain and snow works its way underground, it eventually comes into contact with molten rock beneath the surface. This causes the water to heat up and travel back up towards the surface again.

The superheated water eventually bursts out of the ground, where the relative lack of pressure causes it to flash into steam as a geyser.

Yellowstone has so many geysers because it sits on top of a supervolcano, providing the heat that powers the national park's geothermal activity.

Steamboat eruptions are unpredictable. The geyser was dormant for half a century until the early 60s, a couple of years after the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake. Since then, Steamboat's eruptions have been sporadic.

Typically the geyser goes through some periods of frequent eruptions, followed by years of dormancy in which nothing happens at all.

Geyser eruption
Steamboat Geyser seen letting off steam in the Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, in September, 2014. Steamboat Geyser appears to be quieting down, an expert has said. Jim Peaco/Smith Collection/Gado/Yellowstone National Park/Getty

From September 2014 through to March 2018, Steamboat Geyser did not erupt once, marking a dormancy period of around three-and-a-half years.

Through 2018 to June 2022, the geyser became active, shooting jets of hot water high into the air, sometimes multiple times per month. In 2019 it even smashed its own record for the number of eruptions in a single year, blasting water into the air 48 times. Its previous record, set in 2018, was 32.

On June 20, though, this period of activity came to an abrupt end.

In a monthly update posted on September 1, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory said that Steamboat Geyser had not erupted for more than two months.

Michael Poland, a research geophysicist and Scientist-in-Charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, told Newsweek: "It certainly seems as though Steamboat's activity is waning.

"We had 32 eruptions in 2018, 48 each in 2019 and 2020, and then 'just' 20 in 2021, and so far in 2022 we've had 'only' eight. I use the quotes because in just about any other year, those numbers would be awesome! But we've been spoiled for the past few years by the show that the geyser has been putting on."

Poland said there may still be some life in the geyser for at least one more eruption this year, but the wider pattern of eruptions does seem to show a downwards trend.

"The geyser is having lots of minor activity, and that is typically a prelude to a major eruption," Poland said. "That said, we've had well over a month of minor activity now, which we haven't seen during the current cycle of frequent eruptions.

"Whether or not Steamboat experiences another major [eruption], the activity certainly does seem to be on the decline. But the geyser certainly put on an amazing show for us for the past several years!"