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Old Faithful is a geyser in the shape of a cone geyser found in the United States in a park called Yellowstone. It was given that name in 1870 by Langford–Doane who had made an expedition to the area and because of its faithful eruptions he coined that name. It was also the first geyser in the park to be given a name. The geothermal activities of the geyser are highly predictable because it has been erupting in an interval of between 44 minutes and two hours since the year 2000 (Deering 31). The geyser has very unique regular eruptions with has created interest amongst visitors and geologists
The Unique Features of Old Faithful Geysers
The geyser is one of the most famous in the world, and anybody who visits Yellowstone must ensure that they see it (Deering 32). The name Faithful originated from its regular eruption frequency and reliable eruptions. Since its discovery, researchers have recorded more than one million eruptions, and the number is still increasing (Hurwitz and David 328). Visitors to the geyser sometimes dishonor it by using it to do their laundry. They place garments to the crater during its latency period which are later ejected when it erupts already carefully washed (Deering 33). The visitors who use it for washing have discovered that cotton and linen materials are undamaged during the washing process but woolen materials are torn into shreds. Figure 1: An Image of the Geyser Eruptions.
For geysers to be formed there must be a volcanic source of heat, a geologic plumbing system, and much water. The plumbing system is used to release the heated water into the earth’s surface. The water squirts when it is heated to boiling point levels by the volcanic rocks that are very hot because of the increase in temperatures. After the steam bubbles have expanded, they push water through the plumbing system, and the rock fissures until they come out of the geyser. When the top layers of water escape, the pressure of the hot water below decreases causing a chain of explosions. The disruptive explosion of steam expands the volume of the boiling raising water by an average of 1500 times or even more (Zucchini et al.218). The water that has been superheated then bursts into the sky to form the usual geyser’s fountain of water explosion.
The geyser’s frequency of eruptions depends on the amount of groundwater. Studies have shown that areas within Yellowstone park that have a lot of underground water erupt more frequently than the areas that have little water. In the time when there is an extended period of drought, the eruption intervals are longer. For small geysers, the prolonged dry spell will shut the geysers completely. Apart from the water precipitation, earthquakes also change the eruption intervals by re-arranging the underground plumbing systems of the geysers because of the shits in the ground (Zucchini et al. 225). The effect of precipitation on geysers is gradual but earthquakes have immediate effects.
The Old Faithful currently erupts an average of 20 times a day. Today, the eruptions predictively occur within a 90-minute confidence rate, with a variation of ten minutes. Before the 1959 earthquake, the geyser used to erupt 21 times a day (Zucchini et al. 213). The fountain is an example of a pinecone geyser which means it can be seen from the earth’s surface due to its permeable mounts of siliceous sinter. It is a common phenomenon for cone-shaped geysers to release a steady flow of steam for seconds or minutes. The Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin has the largest amount of hydrothermal features, and it has been the main center of interest for the people who visit the park (Zucchini et al. 213). In 2010, the officials of Yellowstone Park established an educational center for the guests who go to the site so that they can learn about the place (Hurwitz and David 330). The visitors to the park use the facilities to learn about the hydrothermal properties and the geology of the place.
The geyser is one amongst the 500 in the park although it is the only one with unique eruptive qualities. It is not common to accurately predict the explosions of geysers with regularity but the Old Faithful has defied this fact because it is easier to forecast its eruptions with small margins of error. Studies show that although it is easier to predict the geyser eruptions, this might be altered in the future because the earth’s thermal features constantly change (Hurwitz and David 329). The temperatures changes that lead to eruptions are due to volcanic reactions under the surface of the earth. The eruptions are so powerful that they can sprout fourteen to thirty-two thousand liters of water up to a height of fifty-six meters. (Hurwitz and David 328). The eruption of the water can last between half a minute and five minutes. Therefore, the average height of the water eruption is 44 meters rendering it one of the most powerful eruptions in the world. The intervals between one eruption, and the other one ranged between sixty to one hundred, and ten minutes in 1939, making an average of 5 minutes (Zucchini et al. 213). However, today, the average has increased to 90 minutes, which has been attributed to the earthquakes affecting the water levels in the subterranean regions (Hurwitz
and David 330). The Faithful Geyser has been baffling visitors due to its regular frequency of eruptions which has made it gain fame globally. However, geologists have conducted studies and explained why such regular and powerful eruptions occur.
After Borah Peak erupted in 1983 the length of the geyser’s eruptions increased with an interval of between sixty-five to ninety-one minutes. If the margin error of 11 is used in calculating when the next eruption will occur, then it will take 65 minutes since the earlier eruptions last for 2.5 minutes to 9 (Zucchini et al. 213). However, the interval can also take 91 minutes after 2.5 minutes of an eruption. Between the years 1983 and 1994, geologists lowered four probes with pressure, and temperature measurements 72 feet deep. The temperature of the water during that time was found to be244 °F (118 °C) (Zucchini et al. 213). Geologists in 1942 did the same measurements 42 meters deep using videos(Zucchini et al. 214). They saw fog in the crater which they credited to the mixing of cool and hot air from underneath. Geologists also observed water being recharged and going into the channel and the steam was at a temperature of 129 °C (265 °F) (Hurwitz and David 333).
To conclude, The Old Faithful geyser has unique features which have elicited interest for both visitors and geologists. Studies still continue to acquire a better understanding of the geyser and its predictable eruptions. Researchers have unraveled the mystery behind the regular eruptions of the geyser. Many people come to the area to see the authenticity of the eruptions which have made the geyser to be famous globally.
Deering, Roy. The Day Old Faithful Stopped: A Yellowstone National Park Mystery. Road Runner Press, 2019.
Hurwitz, Shaul, and David R. Shelly. “Illuminating the Voluminous Subsurface Structures of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park. Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 44, no. 20, 2017, pp. 10,328-10,331.
Zucchini, Walter, et al. Eruptions of the Old Faithful Geyser: Hidden Markov Models for Time Series, 2017, pp. 213-225.