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The relation between decadal droughts and eruptions of Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, USA

July 25, 2023

In the past century, most eruptions of Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park's Norris Geyser Basin were mainly clustered in three episodes: 1961–1969, 1982–1984, and ongoing since 2018. These eruptive episodes resulted in extensive disturbance to surrounding trees. To characterize tree response over time as an indicator of geyser activity adjustments to climate variability, aerial and ground images were analyzed to document changes in tree coverage around the geyser since 1954. Radiocarbon dating of silicified tree remnants from within 14 m of the geyser vent was used to examine geyser response to possible variations in decadal to centennial precipitation patterns. We searched for atypical or absent growth rings in cores from live trees in years associated with large geyser eruptions. Photographs indicate that active eruptive phases have adversely affected trees up to 30 m from the vent, primarily in the dominant downwind direction. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the geyser formed before 1878, in contrast to the birthdate reported in historical documents. Further, the ages of the silicified trees cluster within three episodes that are temporally correlated with periods of relative drought in the Yellowstone region during the 15th–17th centuries. The discontinuous growth of trees around the geyser suggests that changes in eruptive patterns occur in response to decadal to multidecadal droughts. This inference is supported by the lack of silicified specimens with more than 20 annual rings and by the existence of atypical or missing rings in live trees during periods of extended geyser activity.

Publication Year 2023
Title The relation between decadal droughts and eruptions of Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, USA
DOI 10.1029/2023GC010988
Authors Shaul Hurwitz, John C. King, Gregory T. Pederson, Mara H. Reed, Lauren N Harrison, Jefferson Hungerford, R. Greg Vaughan, Michael Manga
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Index ID 70247277
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Astrogeology Science Center; Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; Volcano Science Center