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The 2018 reawakening and eruption dynamics of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser

November 18, 2020

Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park’s Norris Geyser Basin began a prolific sequence of eruptions in March 2018 after 34 y of sporadic activity. We analyze a wide range of datasets to explore triggering mechanisms for Steamboat’s reactivation and controls on eruption intervals and height. Prior to Steamboat’s renewed activity, Norris Geyser Basin experienced uplift, a slight increase in radiant temperature, and increased regional seismicity, which may indicate that magmatic processes promoted reactivation. However, because the geothermal reservoir temperature did not change, no other dormant geysers became active, and previous periods with greater seismic moment release did not reawaken Steamboat, the reason for reactivation remains ambiguous. Eruption intervals since 2018 (3.16 to 35.45 d) modulate seasonally, with shorter intervals in the summer. Abnormally long intervals coincide with weakening of a shallow seismic source in the geyser basin’s hydrothermal system. We find no relation between interval and erupted volume, implying unsteady heat and mass discharge. Finally, using data from geysers worldwide, we find a correlation between eruption height and inferred depth to the shallow reservoir supplying water to eruptions. Steamboat is taller because water is stored deeper there than at other geysers, and, hence, more energy is available to power the eruptions.

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