Origin of the Word Geyser:



Index  for this page- Info on The Great Geysir













Geysir Facts

Discovered- 1294 AD

Eruption Heights-

4 - 80 meters, heights have reportedly varied depending on activity. Some reports that eruptions may have reached 100meters. Current eruptions 4 -10 meters.

Interval between eruptions: varied over time, when active 3 hours to 8 hours. Periods of Inactivity of 40 -55 years have been observed.

Duration of Eruption:

Last Period of Dormancy: 1935-2000.


There are not many geysers on earth. They are  rare geologic features. All earth's geysers get their name from a large geyser in Iceland. The name sake for all the world's geysers is the Great Geysir. Etymologically, Geysir has it roots in the Old Norse word geysa which means to gush or rush forth.   The Icelandic people are very proud of their geyser. In fact its name, Geysir, is copyrighted. The word geyser is an eponym. What is an eponym? Look on the bottom of this page for the answer.

Geysir is to Iceland what Old Faithful is to Yellowstone. A symbol that people identify with Iceland and its natural wonders. And like Old Faithful, its image appears on stamps, commemorative coins and a whole host of curios such as cups, glasses, plates, t-shirts and yes even the occasional tie. They love their geyser in Iceland even when it is not erupting regularly. It is still a national symbol. It is still the Great Geysir, the namesake of all the worlds geysers, even that other famous geyser Old Faithful. The Yellowstone geyser  may be more faithful than Geysir but not more loved.

It is interesting there aren't more curios and remembrances of Strokkur. But then how many are there of Grand, Beehive and Fountain at the Hamilton Stores in Yellowstone?

Long before most of the world knew of the wonders of Yellowstone and before Old Faithful had been given its now familiar name, Europeans marveled at the thermal wonders of Iceland.  The greatest of these wonders was the  mighty Great Geysir. Explorers, naturalists, and travelers made drawings, etchings and paintings to convey the power wonder and majesty of this natural fountain. These art works found their way to a curious public wanting to learn more of strange new places with volcanoes and geysers.  The earliest reference to Geysir was in 1294 following a large earthquake in the Haukadal valley area.  The geyser was apparently active following this time though not much is known about its active till 1630 when after about a 40 year dormancy the Geysir was again awaken by a large earthquake. It reportedly played as often as about every 3 hours .   By the 1800's Geysir was a great attraction in Iceland. 19th-century tourists marveled at its 240 foot-high eruption.  By the end of the 19th century had slowed to about 3 eruptions a day and alas,  tourists, impatient to see an eruption, tried to stimulate an eruption by throwing peat and rocks into the throat of the geyser. They threw so many rocks into Geysir that they may have damaged it by partially blocking its throat. By 1915 the Geysir was dormant. It is not clear whether the dormancy was due to a shift in heat and water underground ( a change of function )or because of the abuse to which the geyser was subjected. You will find the geyser on my list of damaged or destroyed geysers. The geyser did erupt in 1935 for a brief period but retuned to dormancy. Some times in later years for show  an eruption was induced by putting soap into the geyser. This causes the geyser to erupt but also further damages the plumbing system of the geyser.   Inductions of eruptions of Geysir are now reportedly prohibited in hopes that the geyser may heal and return to activity. It is a shame this magnificent feature has been damaged by mans carelessness.
Then on  June
17th and 21st 2000 history repeated itself. After a series of earthquakes in the area, Geysir has began to erupt again. Current eruptions do not reach the magnitude of the old one being only 8  to 10 meters in height. Check out my iceland page for links to more information and pictures. See geyser description below for a brief review of this new activity.
During the time of Geysir' s dormancy and continuing on till today, a neighboring geyser, Strokkur,  puts on a remarkable show with  eruptions every 5 to 10 minutes. Click here for links to more pictures and links to Iceland's geysers.






The Geysir geothermal area which is named after the famous Great Geysir is located at Haukadalur in the Valley of Haukadal. It is located in a area of active rifting and volcanism on the western edge of Iceland. This is an area where the Atlantic rift comes onshore. This geologic feature is well exposed in Thingvellir National Park located in the nearby vicinity of the geyser basin. Temperatures in the subsurface at Geysir reach over 200°C at 1 km of depth. The Thermal area is located about 125 kilometers east of the capital city of Reykjavik. The Geyser basin itself is small at just a 3 km³ or about 1 square mile.






Photo Credit: Photo of Geysir from Embassy of Iceland web site

Now a quick change from the subject of geology and geysers to language. (Sorry, I live with my wife, the writer, and she is making me do this).

Geysir, linguistically speaking, is an eponym—something or someone that gives its name to everything of its type, in this case the English word geyser. Geology has  other eponyms—for example, every volcano on Earth is named for Vulcano, off the coast of Italy.

My thanks to Andrew Alden of What you need to Know About geology Website for enlightening me about eponyms.


Description of Geysir


The picture above left shows Geysir on one of Iceland's  very rare sunny days. Note the soap all over the place, and the large crowd that came to see it when the eruption was  induced.
Geysir erupts from a circular 8 ft. vent in the middle of a circular 60 ft. shallow pool, on top of a huge mound.  Its historic 50-60-m high eruption began as boiling over the vent, which turns into massive (very very wide considering the size of the vent) bursting which last 30 minutes or more. These bursts reach 60 or even 100 ft. The pool level is maintained during this time.
Then the amazing part happens.  The bursting from a full pool ends abruptly, and the pool drains completely  as fast as the water can fall into the vent. Everything is left high and dry, and all is quiet for a minute or two. Then . . . POW! The eruption begins again, in cone type fashion, with an instantaneous  shot to great height. This eruption is characterized by very narrow and enormously powerful jetting. Heights over 200 ft. are common. Eruptions  approaching 100 meters have been recorded. Induced eruptions (like the one in the picture) are significantly smaller than natural ones.
The water gradually runs out, and the water column is replaced by a high pressure steam column. This steam phase is very powerful, and lasts several hours
. Geysir has ,however, been dormant except for induced eruptions, like the one in the photograph, since 1935.

On the 17th and 21st June 2000, following large earthquakes in Southern Iceland, Geysir started to erupt after having been dormant since 1935. Now it erupts at least every day and sometimes several times per day, but has not regained its former heights of 50-60 m. Now it erupts 8-10 m but does it intermittently for some time when it starts. These current eruptions start as turbulence at the surface, then gushes of water are thrown 8-10 m into the air. As the erupting water falls back into the vent it cools the water in the vent and the boiling stops.


Old postcard showing Geysir in eruption.  Date and photographer unknown.







 Wyo's Iceland Geyser Links


  • Strokkur (The churn)   - Active
  • Sódi (the sod),  - Inactive
  • Smiğur (the carpenter),  - Inactive
  •  Fata (the bucket), - Currently Active Irregular
  •  Óşerrishola (the non-draught-hole, or the rainmaker),  - Currently Active Irregular
  •  Litli Geysir (the small Geysir)   -Inactive
  •  Litli Strokkur (the little Strokkur).   -Inactive
  • Konungshver (the king's hot spring) Hot Springs
  • Blesi (the blazer) Hot Springs

The largest active geyser in the Geysir basin is Strokkur (churn). It  erupts about every 8 minutes to heights of 30 to 40 meters. Strokkur first appeared after an earthquake in 1789. It erupted until 1896 when reportedly it ceased erupting and went dormant following another earthquake. In 1963 man intervened and thoroughly cleaned the geyser's vent. It has been the main performer in the geyser area since that time.

The other active geyser in the basin is Oşerrishola which is highly irregular and seldom active. It is more likely to erupt when a low pressure weather system works it way into the area.

Normally the other geysers in this basin do not erupt unless  treated with soap, a practice which can damage the geyser's plumbing system.
The earthquake of June 17th and 21st  2000 caused significant changes in the basin,
The hot springs Konungshver (the king's hot spring) and Blesi (the blazer) started to boil vigorously, up to 0,5-1 m. Both Óşerrishola and Fata also started to erupt, and Fata sometimes twice a day. Several new springs were born and the amount of water flowing from others in the basin increased noticeably. And most important of all, Geysir started with eruption again after a 65 year hiatus. These were not as high as previous eruptions in 1935 but  encouraging.


Photo and Image Credits


Andrew Alden, 2003, Save the Geysers!, What You Need to Know About Geology website.

Tom F.W. Barth, 1937, Thermal Activity in Iceland, Norsk geologisk tidaskrif,16.1936.

T. Scott Bryan,1995, The Geysers of Yellowstone, Niwott, Co: University of Colorado Press. Appendix: Geyser Fields of the World pp. 408-410.

Geysir Center, 2003,Geysir Area History, website,

Harri Eliasson, 2001,Geysir and Strokkur Photographs, website

Eric Hatfield, 1998. A description of the eruption of Geysir  from a  Dec. 5, 1998 post  to the Geyser List. My thanks to Eric.

Northvegr, the Northern Way,2003,  Holy Language Lexicon, website

Helgi Torfason, 2003,Geysir Area Geology, Geysir Center website

Thorkell Thorkelsson,1930,On Thermal Activity In Iceland and Geyser Action, Reykjavík: Ísafoldarprentsmiđja H.F.





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