New research has shed some light on Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful, as scientists have mapped the geyser’s “heart” and revealed some interesting discoveries about the frequent eruptions it has long been identified with. Specifically, the new study suggests that there is a reservoir of heated water that helps facilitate the geyser’s myriad eruptions.
According to Yellowstone’s official website, the Old Faithful geyser was named in 1870, as explorers marveled at the size of the landmark and the frequency of its eruptions. These eruptions take place every 35 to 120 minutes and last up to five minutes in length, with steam spewing out at heights of 90 to 184 feet. Millions of people visit Yellowstone each year to see the famous geyser, but prior to this week, little had been known about Old Faithful’s internal features and the process behind its eruptions.
That changed when a team of researchers from the University of Utah surveyed Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, using data from seismographs to track the areas around and underneath the geyser. The Daily Mail wrote that the researchers studied measurements from 30 permanent seismometers around Yellowstone, and also used 133 portable seismometers to gather data from both the Old Faithful and Geyser Hill areas.
Study co-author Fan-Chi Lin said in a statement that the team attempted to create their own signal from the various rumblings produced by people, cars, wind, water, and Yellowstone’s internal activity.
Based on the data gathered from the sensors, the area surrounding Old Faithful is jolted by seismic tremors that last about an hour in length. Interestingly, this happens once an eruption is almost over, and not at the time when the shaking is at its peak. The tremors are then followed by “quiet periods” lasting about 30 minutes in length, and it’s only at that time when the geyser’s reservoir refills with hot water.
“As that cavity fills up, you have a lot of hot pressurized bubbles,” study co-author Jamie Farrell observed.
“When they come up, they cool off really rapidly and they collapse and implode.”
It is believed that the reservoir located within Yellowstone has a diameter of about 200 meters and could hold about 300,000 cubic meters (79 million gallons) of water. Each time Old Faithful erupts, the geyser releases about 30 cubic meters (8,000 gallons). As researcher Sin-Mei Wu explained, the above figures proved to be surprisingly large, despite the fact that they were just rough estimates.
The researchers, who are led by Robert Smith, a renowned geology and geophysics professor and expert on Yellowstone, plan to return to Old Faithful once the park closes for the winter season. As part of this planned follow-up study, the team hopes to learn more about how seismic waves travel and how changes in air temperature could potentially affect geyser activity.
[Featured Image by Lorcel/Shutterstock]