Steamboat Geyser at the Yellowstone Caldera is one of the largest geysers in the park. Geysers are places where superheated water from below the surface builds up pressure until it shoots out of the ground. And then the process starts all over again. Some geysers are very regular in their eruptions, such as the famed Old Faithful. However, some can be irregular in the time between eruptions and some may completely stop for long periods, reports Discover Magazine.
Steamboat Geyser falls into this last category. Having not erupted since 2014, the geyser has since blasted hot water and steam into the air seven times this spring alone. The last time the geyser produced even three eruptions this close in time was 2003, so geoscientists who watch the geyser are surprised by how often it has erupted. When Steamboat Geyser has a major eruption, it can shoot water and steam upwards of 300 feet over the landscape at volumes that are 10 times that of Old Faithful.
Of course, with Steamboat Geyser’s location in Yellowstone, this sort of news of a surprisingly active geyser makes certain people get overexcited/nervous that maybe the giant volcano might be waking up. However, this is not the case for Steamboat Geyser’s current activity. The last year that the geyser had multiple eruptions, the Norris Geyser Basin where Steamboat resides, had seen an increase in the subsurface temperatures. Everything went back to normal, but possibly we’re seeing another thermal change. However, there haven’t been any other signs of new heat (like new hot springs) noticed so far, so it is not clear if anything thermal changes are happening.
It could also be something specific to Steamboat Geyser. Hydrothermal systems like that found at Yellowstone are notorious for seemingly random changes that are caused by the movement of water underneath your feet. Possibly shifting faults or more water could cause the geysers (or hot springs or whatever) to become more active for a time.
None of this suggests that Yellowstone is heading for an eruption. The current eruption at Kīlauea is a great example of what we would expect before an eruption: lots of earthquakes, more release of volcanic gases, inflation of the ground surface, possibly cracks forming. The current status of the caldera set by the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory is Green/Normal, so nothing seems to be out of the ordinary at Yellowstone right now beyond a single geyser having a heck of a spring.