Yellowstone's Steamboat Geyser Erupted More Times in 2018 Than Any Other Year on Record

Yellowstone National Park's Steamboat geyser—the tallest active geyser in the world—had a record-breaking year in 2018. It experienced more water eruptions over the calendar year than any other since records began.

A statementfrom the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (YVO), which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program, said that throughout 2018 the Steamboat geyser produced 32 eruptions. This, it said, breaks the record of 29, set in 1964.

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The geyser was on a par with the 1964 record until December, when there were three eruptions on the 8th, 17th and 25th. The YVO noted that the geyser became more active in May 2018, saying it appeared to have "entered a phase of more frequent water eruptions, much like it did in the 1960s and early 1980s."

It continued, "Although these eruptions do not have any implications for future volcanic activity at Yellowstone—after all, geysers are supposed to erupt, and most are erratic, like Steamboat—they are nonetheless spectacular."

Jamie Farrell of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah is involved in monitoring seismic activity at Yellowstone. He told Newsweek the activity at Steamboat generally ebbs and flows.

"Hydrothermal systems are very dynamic, and things change all the time," he said. "This isn't the first time Steamboat has a period of high eruption activity. That doesn't mean something isn't driving it. I'm sure there is a reason for this increased activity, but I'm not sure anyone really knows what that is at the moment."

The most active month for Steamboat was September, when there were five eruptions in just one month.

The Steamboat geyser is part of the Norris Geyser Basin. It can produce water eruptions that reach 300 feet into the sky. According to the National Park Service (NPS), large eruptions at Steamboat are "unforgettable," with water surging from two vents.

"Curtains of water fall to the slope above the geyser and collect in torrents rushing back into the vents, carrying huge amounts of mud, sand, and rock that are shot skyward again and again," the NPS said. "Water coats everything with a glistening layer of silica."

Yellowstone is home to hundreds of geysers, with more located there than anywhere else on Earth.

In September last year, the YVO said changes were taking place at the thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin. Scientists announced that Ear Spring, a normally quiet hot pool, had produced a water eruption reaching up to 30 feet. The last time Ear Spring experienced such a large eruption was in 1957.

"Changes in Yellowstone's hydrothermal features are common occurrences and do not reflect changes in activity of the Yellowstone volcano," a YVO statement said. "Shifts in hydrothermal systems occur only [in] the upper few hundred feet of the Earth's crust and are not directly related to movement of magma several kilometers deep. There are no signs of impending volcanic activity."

steamboat geyser
The Steamboat geyser in Yellowstone National Park. iStock