Some surprising news out of Yellowstone National Park: Giant Geyser, one of its most powerful, erupted early this morning around 5:03 a.m. MST.
Indeed, you can see it in the video below by skipping ahead in the time-lapse. We recommend starting about 10-15 minutes before the reported time, or to the 11:30 mark in the video.
This is all the more amazing because Giant, reportedly the second tallest active geyser in the world behind Steamboat Geyser, has a remarkably spotty eruption record. Indeed, it has several different eruptions, according to the Geyser Observation and Study Association.
Unlike Steamboat, however, Giant Geyser has been known to veer into periods of remarkable activity for much longer periods. For large swaths of 1997 and 1998, Giant Geyser erupted every three to four days, with some gaps. It had a comparable fit of activity between 2006 and 2007
Giant is the central geyser of the Giant Group, which includes Mastiff Geyser and Bijou Geyser. In a “normal function eruption,” only Giant erupts, which means it will usually be shorter in terms of time and plume size, attaining 150 feet. Meanwhile, during a “Mastiff function eruption,” where Mastiff erupts alongside Giant (and sometimes Bijou), making Giant rocket upwards of 250 feet.
These categories are fairly fluid, as seen in more recent eruption sprees like in 1996 and 1997.
Giant Geyser last erupted January 22, 2010 at 12:56 a.m. MST. Today’s moonlit eruption, therefore, marks the first eruption of Giant in over five-and-a-half years.
Giant Geyser has had a long history of amazing visitors and explorers alike—not only for the size of its eruptions, but also for its marvelous geyserite cone. The quick sketch above, done by one Walter Trumbell of the 1870 Washburn expedition, is pretty much off the mark proportion wise, but what’s more important is what it suggests: a stupendous display of thermal geology. A better representation of the cone’s size is evidenced in the picture above the headline, dating from 1909.
Giant was one of the most notable geysers, according to Washburn expedition member Nathaniel Pitt Langford. Indeed, Langford featured it (and the Upper Geyser Basin as a whole) prominently in his fêted article “The Wonders of the Yellowstone,” published in Scribner’s Monthly:
“The Giant” has a rugged crater, ten feet in diameter on the outside, with an irregular orifice five or six feet in diameter. It discharges a vast body of water, and the only time we saw it in eruption the flow of water in a column five feet in diameter, and one hundred and forty feet in vertical height, continued uninterruptedly for nearly three hours. The crater resembles a miniature model of the Coliseum (124).
Later, Langford published the diary he kept on the expedition, which includes a very similar description of Giant Geyser, albeit with some more conservative measurements:
The “Giant” is a rugged deposit presenting in form a miniature model of the Colosseum [sic]. It has an opening three feet in diameter. A remarkable characteristic of this geyser is the duration of its discharges, which yesterday afternoon continued for more than an hour in a steady stream about three feet in diameter and one hundred and forty feet high (110-111).
The 1870 Washburn expedition was responsible for the name “Giant,” as the Hayden party learned, according to Marlene Deahl Merrill, when they had to rename their Giant Geyser “Great Fountain.” And through the years, the name has been justified time and time again, captivating Yellowstone visitors throughout time, like in the 1953 photo above.
No one knows precisely what the future of Giant Geyser holds. This past eruption could be a fluke, or it could mark the beginning of another burst of activity.
We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?