Hydrothermal explosions aren’t rare in Yellowstone National Park: you can expect one every few years. And they have the potential to dramatically reshape the landscape; longtime visitors will remember the explosion of Porkchop Geyser in 1989 that forced the National Park Service to close down and reroute the walking path in the Norris Geyser Basin area. And last year there was evidence of a hydrothermal explosion in the Bechler River drainage area, far from the Yellowstone crowds.
In a hydrothermal explosion, the pressure underground grows so intense that it cannot be relieved by anything less than an explosion of surrounding rock.
This season has already seen its first hydrothermal explosion, as a group of visiting geologists — what are the odds? — witnessed an explosion in the Biscuit Basin area.
The EarthScope group of earth-science professionals was in Yellowstone after attending a conference in Boise; they had arrived in Yellowstone after following the path of the volcano over time. On May 17 the group was joined by U.S. Geological Survey employees on a tour of Biscuit Basin, one of the smaller and more underrated areas in Yellowstone.
The explosion didn’t last long — less than 10 second — but it made quite the impact on the tour members, who rushed to the scene of the explosion. In this case, the hydrothermal explosion hurled scalding water and debris into the air, clouding the hot springs but causing no other damage.
Ironically, the group was led by University of Utah professor Bob Smith. He’s now witnessed two oif the more rare happenings in Yellowstone National Park: he also witnessed an eruption of Steamboat Geyser.
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