Yellowstone Volcano Observatory Compares Recent Steamboat Geyser Eruptions

The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has released new information (including seismic data) about the recent Steamboat Geyser eruptions.

The main takeaway: Steamboat’s recent eruptions are smaller than the ones charted in 2013 and 2014.

Steamboat Geyser roared back to life March 15, 2018. It subsequently erupted April 19, followed by a surprise eruption April 27, 2018.

Steamboat’s last major eruption occurred in September 2014. Between then and March 15, 2018, the geyser went on steaming and percolating.

Using seismic data collected by meters near the Norris Geyser Basin Museum, researchers from the University of Utah have put together a chart of Steamboat’s five most recent eruptions, spanning back to 2013. You can see the chart below, courtesy of the YVO:


According to the Observatory, Steamboat’s March 15 eruption followed a typical pattern: “a vigorous water eruption lasting minutes is followed by a steam phase that can last several hours.” In addition, Cistern Spring drained completely, a telltale sign of activity around Steamboat.

The April 19 eruption, however, differed from the March 15 eruption in that it was hotter. Indeed, according to the Observatory, Steamboat’s temperature rose 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit!) and was perceptibly stronger than the March 15 eruption. The geyser was even stronger during the April 27 eruption, pumping out ten times more water than a typical Old Faithful eruption.

Nonetheless, Steamboat’s recent eruptions paled in comparison to the 2013 and 2014 eruptions.

At this time, it is not known whether these latest eruptions signal a change in behavior for Steamboat—whether it will start erupting more frequently—but they certainly don’t suggest the Yellowstone caldera will blow anytime soon.

Steamboat Geyser has always had an erratic eruption cycle. When geologists started keeping records of Yellowstone’s geyser in 1878, Steamboat was a minor geyser, known to erupt rarely. More often than not, it would erupt once and then go dormant—sometimes for months, sometimes for years.

Indeed, Steamboat once went 50 years (1911-61) without erupting at all.

When Steamboat did start erupting again, it did so dramatically. In 1962, Steamboat erupted at least seven times. Its heyday, according to Yellowstone records, came between 1963 and 1965, when it erupted 77 times!

After that, Steamboat quieted down considerably, erupting less and less frequently. It briefly roared back to life in 1982, erupting 23 times, followed by 12 times in 1983. Then, sleep and more erratic eruption cycles.

Researchers with the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory will continue to monitor Steamboat and other geysers in Yellowstone National Park.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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