The world’s tallest active geyser can launch superheated water almost 400 feet into the sky. But research shows its eruptions have become significantly scarcer and it may be because of a dry weather cycle.
By the end of November 2020, scientists had measured 46 eruptions of the massive Steamboat geyser in Yellowstone National Park while this year, there have been just 19.
After a 50-year dormancy the geyser reawakened in 1961 two years after the 7.5 magnitude Hebgen Lake earthquake leading some researchers to suspect that the quake shifted thermal activity in the park. Steamboat’s activity suddenly became more frequent in 2018 when the geyser erupted 32 times breaking all previous records. That frequency caught scientists in Yellowstone by surprise since it had only erupted sporadically.
The number of eruptions by the end of 2019 for Steamboat Geyser was 48, setting an historic record.
During an interview with Jackson Hole Radio, Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Scientist in Charge, Dr. Michael Poland has said, “This is the sort of thing that is expected. Steamboat goes through periods of elevated activity and then returns to periods of less activity, so we knew the current show would eventually end.”
Dr. Poland says one theory about the decline in events may be related to this having been a drought year limiting the amount of groundwater to be available for the feature.
Research suggests that even Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser turned off and stopped erupting for about 150 years during a period some 650-800 years ago due to a drier climate.