Scientists have finally mapped the geological heart of Yellowstone Old Faithful geyser

People from all over the world come to see the Old Faithful’s geyser eruptions. Old Faithful is the most famous landmark of Yellowstone National Park, US, which is filled with dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, hot springs and gushing geysers.

The geysers of Old Faithfull spew jets of boiling water every 44-125 minutes which is a treat to watch. But despite its name and fame, no one tried to know about the geological anatomy of the structure and the fluid pathways that fuel the geyser below the Surface. But now, finally, scientists from the University of Uttah have mapped the heart of the Old Faithful geyser revealing the geological plumbing that gives rise to the landmark’s legendary eruptions.

The mapping was done with the help of a dense network of portable seismographs and through new seismic analysis techniques. The scientists studied about how the reservoir containing heated water feeds the geyser’s surface vents and how the ground shaking behaves in between the eruptions.

Robert Smith, a long-time Yellowstone researcher and distinguished research professor of geology and geophysics was very excited about the successful mapping of the iconic geyser of Yellow stone and said that although it is known around the world, but the complete geologic plumbing of Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin has not been mapped nor have they studied how the timing of eruptions is related to precursor ground tremors before eruptions.

Many structures surrounding Old Faithful, including hotels, a gift shop and a visitor’s center are found to be built over thermal features that result in excessive heat beneath the built environment. So, the Park Service asked the University of Utah scientists to conduct a geological survey of the area around the geyser. During their research, the team analyzed measurements taken from 30 permanent seismometers around the park, thus revealing data on ground shaking which could help get advance warning of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Also, they used 133 portable seismometers in the Old Faithful and Geyser Hill areas.

The sensors revealed that the area around Old Faithful experiences bursts of intense seismic tremors, each lasting about 60 minutes and this takes place towards the end of the eruption, not at the peak of shaking. Researchers also revealed that each eruption releases about almost 30 cubic meters of water and once the eruption is over the reservoir fills back with hot water. The study results were published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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