Distant quake changes geyser eruptions

An Alaskan earthquake changed the timing of geysers thousands of miles away.

Underground, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is an exciting place. With more than 10,000 geysers, hot springs, and steaming volcanic vents, there’s always something spewing, spouting, or bubbling over.


Yellowstone’s Castle Geyser erupted less often after underground vibrations from a large earthquake in Alaska rippled through the park in November 2002.


S. Husen/University of Utah

Scientists recently turned up a new surprise at Yellowstone. Amazingly, an earthquake that shook Alaska on Nov. 3, 2002, affected underground activity in Yellowstone more than 3,100 kilometers away, say geologists from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The earthquake had an especially large effect on some of the geysers in the park. Geysers are spouts of water that shoot out of the ground at periodic intervals. The park uses instruments to monitor 22 geysers around the clock. Of those, eight changed their patterns for a few weeks after the quake, records show.

Some geysers, such as Daisy Geyser, erupted more often for a few weeks after the quake. Others, such as Lone Pine Geyser, erupted less often. The researchers think underground vibrations traveling all the way from Alaska loosened mineral deposits that normally regulate geyser eruptions. The famous geyser Old Faithful wasn’t affected at all.

The quake influenced some of the park’s hot springs, too. A few springs that are normally calm surged into a raging boil. A spring that’s normally clear turned muddy.

That’s a long, long way over which an earthquake’s effects can be felt!

Going Deeper:

Perkins, Sid. 2004. Geyser bashing: Distant quake alters timing of eruptions. Science News 165(June 5):357. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20040605/fob5.asp .

You can learn more about the geysers and geology of Yellowstone National Park at www2.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/yell/ (National Park Service).

Information about geysers is available at www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~glennon/geysers/ (University of California, Santa Barbara).

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