Let’s learn about geysers and hydrothermal vents

These are places where superhot water streams out of the earth

a photo of Old Faithful, a geyser in Yellowstone Park, shooting water up into the sky under a rainbow

Old Faithful is a geyser in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. It gets its name because it regularly and predictably spews hot water and steam.

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Plate tectonics is the phenomenon that gives us earthquakes, volcanoes and mountains. It also creates geysers and hydrothermal vents. Both of these geologic features involve water spewing from the earth.

Geysers are underground springs found near active volcanoes. Water beneath the surface heats up from the volcanic heat. But it can’t escape because it’s trapped by cool water above. Eventually, the water becomes superheated. As that superhot water rises through the cooler liquid, it starts to boil. That creates steam that quickly rises and spews through the vent. That’s the dramatic spurt we see at the surface.

Hydrothermal vents are found deep in the world’s oceans. They form where tectonic plates are crashing together or spreading. Water there percolates through the seafloor. Volcanic heat warms this water, which then reemerges from vents in the ocean floor. This water never boils, though. The extreme pressure of the deep ocean prevents it from boiling.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Carbon dioxide could explain how geysers spout: The gas lowers the water’s boiling point, prompting eruptions at the surface (4/20/2016) Readability: 8.2

To study a geyser, these teens built their own: A pressure cooker and copper tubes become a decent stand-in for a gusher (6/2/2017) Readability: 6.2

Seafloor hosts surprising number of deep-sea vents: New tool found them by sensing changes to seawater from vented chemicals (7/11/2016) Readability: 7.3

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Explainer: Understanding plate tectonics

Watch a live feed from Old Faithful, which is probably the most famous geyser in the world. It erupts around 20 times each day and is far more regular in its activity than most geysers. National Park Service employees make predictions on when the geyser will erupt, and those predictions are about 90 percent accurate. Use this worksheet from the National Park Service to learn how to make your own predictions. How close can you get?

Sarah Zielinski is the Editor, Print at Science News Explores. She has degrees in biology and journalism and likes to write about ecology, plants and animals. She has three cats: Oscar, Saffir and Alani.

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