The biggest geyser in Yellowstone National Park just erupted three times for the first time in 15 years, but this isn’t a sign that the Yellowstone supervolcano is about to blow.
Everyone knows about Old Faithful, the volcanic geyser that erupts every 45 minutes to two hours, but that’s just one of the many geysers that litter Yellowstone National Park. The biggest one, Steamboat, can actually out-distance Old Faithful by a fair margin: 300 feet waterspouts as opposed to Old Faithful’s 100-foot streams.
However, Steamboat is a highly irregular geyser. It can go months or even years between eruptions, making it much less of a tourist spot in the park. That is, unless you were around on March 15, April 19th, or April 27th. That’s when Steamboat blew its top for the first time in three and a half years, and the first time it blew three times in a row in 15 years.
If you know anything about the geology of Yellowstone, the triple eruption could seem a little worrying. Yellowstone Park actually sits atop an ancient volcanic caldera, and just beneath the surface is a bubble of magma in the Earth’s crust. It’s one of the biggest dormant volcanoes in the world, with the last super-eruption happening some 640,000 years ago.
That eruption spewed 240 cubic miles of molten rock into the atmosphere and threw it over what is now half of the continental United States.
However, geologists at Yellowstone are quick to point out that Steamboats recent eruptions are way smaller than the ones that occurred in 2013 and 2014 and are by no means an indication that the Yellowstone supervolcano is about to blow.
A better indication of whether or not the supervolcano will erupt is the upward movement of the ground in Yellowstone park. Back in the mid-2000s, geologists were quite concerned when the floor of the caldera began to rise at a rate of almost three inches per year, but that thankfully stopped in 2009 and so far hasn’t repeated itself.
So go ahead and plan that Yellowstone vacation. Just stay back from Steamboat--it seems to be firing off a little more often as of late.