One of the most magnificent spots in all of North America is Yellowstone Park. Every year, millions of people go to Yellowstone to take delight in the freshest air on earth. The free-roaming elk, bison, and other wildlife are enchanting, but it’s the concentrated assortment of geysers that make Yellowstone so distinctive and surreal. Geysers are possibly the most recognizable hydrothermal feature, and scientists estimate that there are approximately 700 in the world. However, the majority of the world’s geysers can be found in Yellowstone National Park. While geysers captivate their audiences with their eruptions, many people overlook the natural phenomenon that creates this spectacle.

How Do Geysers Erupt?

How do Eruptions Form?

Geysers can be thought of like a hot spring. Much like hot springs, they occur where magma lies just below the surface of the Earth, and water from rain and snow percolates through cracks in the ground until it enters an underground reservoir just above the magma. However, instead of being free to fill up with water on the surface, geysers have constructions in their ‘plumbing.’ The blockage traps the water and causes it to be under extreme pressure, which causes the water to superheat above its normal boiling point. However, the water cannot boil at this temperature because it is under so much pressure. Eventually, the superheated water will overcome the pressure, and the hot water will begin to rise closer to the surface and release steam. As the steam rises, it expands and lifts the water above it until the geyser overflows. As the geyser releases water, the pressure decreases inside of it which causes the rest of the water to boil violently. The steam created from the boiling water thrusts everything out of the vent, and the eruption begins. The eruption stops when the geysers reservoir of water depletes or when it cools to the point that no steam is created. Afterward, the reservoir refills with water and the process repeats.

Types of Eruptions

There are different patterns of eruptions. For example, Riverside Geyser located in the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone erupts at an angle across the Firehole River. Another Yellowstone geyser is Echinus, which erupts much like a firework with water being released from all sides. Steamboat, the world’s largest geyser, erupts upwards with an immense force that the water towers at 400 feet in the air. Furthermore, some geysers can re-build pressure quickly, which produces eruptions every few minutes. For example, Old Faithful erupts every 80 minutes and can reach approximately 200 feet high. Others re-build slowly and may not be as reliable as Old Faithful. Some geysers erupt every few hundred years.

Types of Geysers

Cone Geysers

Cone Geyser

Cone Geyser from Darilon via Pixabay

Cone geysers got their name because the surface has silica buildup around it to form a cone. The cone forms because the thermal water dissolves the silica located beneath the surface. When the water reaches the surface, so does the silica. During the eruption, portions of the silica deposit itself along the outside of the geyser. Each eruption slowly enlarges the cone. Furthermore, the plumbing system in this type of geyser usually has a constriction towards the top of the cone, which causes water to jet out in a column. An example of this type of geyser is Riverside in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone.

Fountain Geysers

Fountain Geyser

Fountain Geyser from mauriceangres via Pixabay

The most commonly found type of geyser is the fountain geysers. This type has a large opening on the surface that forms a pool of water before and during an eruption. These eruptions, unlike the cone eruptions, spray water out in all directions. An example of this type is the Great Fountain in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone.




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