The Steamboat Geyser at Yellowstone National Park is no Old Faithful.
The world’s tallest active geyser—whose major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet into the air—is known to be unpredictable. But if there was ever a year to witness Steamboat’s spectacular surge of water, this might be it.
We’re just over halfway through 2019 and the Steamboat Geyser has already erupted 25 times, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That puts it on track to surpass last year’s record of 32 eruptions—the largest number ever recorded in a year. The record before that was 29 eruptions in 1964.
The Steamboat Geyser erupted seven times just last month alone, the USGS said. June’s outbursts, which occurred on the 1st, 7th, 12th, 15th, 19th, 23rd, and 28th, also smashed the record for the shortest interval between eruptions—just over three days.
Scientists aren’t sure what’s behind the recent increase in activity, but the short answer is that this is just how geysers work.
“They’re mostly random and experience phases of alternating eruptive activity,” Michael Poland, the USGS scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, wrote in an email to CNN. “So while fascinating, it’s not unusual, nor cause for concern.”
The Steamboat Geyser has experienced periods of more frequent eruptions in the past. The geyser saw an uptick in eruptions in the 1960s after being dormant for about 50 years, and also saw increased eruptions in the 1980s.
Some scientists have attributed increases in Steamboat’s eruptions to thermal energy shifts caused by earthquakes. But there is no clear correlation between the geyser’s eruptions and earthquake activity, according to the National Park Service.
“The dynamic nature of this geyser basin, and the geology of Yellowstone as a whole, keeps everyone guessing,” the National Park Service says on its website.
Yellowstone’s Steamboat Geyser on track to hit a record number of eruptions for second year in a row.
— CNN Newsource (@CNNNewsource) July 4, 2019
Until 2018, the Steamboat Geyser had been mostly calm for about 15 years.
Yellowstone National Park is home to about 10,000 hydrothermal features, including hot springs, geysers and mud pots, the National Park Service says. It has about 500 geysers as well as the largest concentration of active geysers in the world.
Scientists said they have discovered new thermal activity in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming that is about the size of four football fields.
Speaking with Wyoming Public Media, United States Geological Survey researcher Greg Vaughan said that the “area used to be covered by trees and now it’s an area where there’s a bunch of dead trees, bright soil and it’s a hot spot.”
He uses satellites to track thermal areas that measure heat being emitted from the ground.
The hot and corrosive hot spot has “been sneaking up on the park for the last 20 years,” he told the New York Times.
“Yellowstone’s thermal areas are the surface expression of the deeper magmatic system, and they are always changing. They heat up, they cool down, and they can move around,” the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory stated, pointing to the eruption of Ear Spring in September 2018 as a “new thermal feature.”
“These sorts of changes are part of the normal life cycles of thermal areas in Yellowstone National Park,” it added in a blog post in April.
Michael Poland, the researcher in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, has often had to debunk articles saying the Yellowstone caldera, or “supervolcano,” is about to erupt. He told the newspaper that the appearance of a new thermal area isn’t something to worry about, noting that thermal areas appear and disappear in the park.