Protecting Geysers and Other Thermal Features

WyoJones' Geyser Site

National Park personnel cleaning out debris tossed in to Occasional Geyser by thoughtless visitors at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY, 1998

Thermal Features can be fragile even though they may appear powerful and indestructible. Geysers can be altered or destroyed if any of the needed conditions needed for their existence change: heat, water supply, and  plumbing system. Natural processes can effect geyser behavior if thosse processes alter these 3 conditions. If the magma chamber or heat source cools,  the geysers activity dependent on that heat source will cease. If the water supply is decreased or cut off from the geyser the eruptions may cease. The largest geyser ever known, Waimangu in New Zealand, ceased after a landslide changed the water supply (see Bryan,1996 in resources). The geysers natural plumbing system allows the periodic nature of a geyser. If the plumbing system is destroyed the geyser activity may cease leaving only a hot spring. Porkchop Geyser in Yellowstone's Norris Geyser Basin may have destroyed its' plumbing system in a hydrothermal explosion. Excelsior Geyser also was believed to have altered it plumbing system during an explosive eruption in 1890. Subsequent eruptions of Excelsior have been rare and far short of the 300 foot heights reached in the 1800's. Geyser activity can also also be affected if one of the important parts of the plumbing system, the vent, becomes blocked. Geyserite (silica) deposits in the geysers vent or throat may eventually block eruptions from occurring. This is the case the with the geysers of Monument Basin. Earthquakes and volcanic activity can also destroy geysers. In 1890 a volcanic eruption in New Zealand destroyed  the White and Pink terraces nd their geysers.

Geysers are fragile geologically, lasting but only momentarily in geologic time, and can be changed or altered by natural processes associated with the natural life cycle of a geyser. Because they are fragile mans activity can also destroy or alter geysers. The drilling of Geothermal wells that damage the subsurface hydrothermal systems by altering water supply and flow patterns pose the biggest threat to the world's geysers. Even Yellowstone has been threaten by proposed hydrothermal projects outside the park at Island Park in Idaho and near Gardiner, Montana. Though not in the immediate vicinity of geysers no one knows how this drilling will effect the hydrothermal systems of the park. Thus far this drilling has not be allowed but continued vigilance is needed. Outside Yellowstone many geyser areas have already been changed or destroyed by drilling in Iceland, New Zealand, Nevada, the Azores and elsewhere. Many other geysers around the world are threatened with extinction due to geothermal projects.

igaice3t.jpg (5818 bytes)

Picture above: Drilling a well for the Krafla Geothermal Plant (126 kb, photo by Jósef Hólmjárn) from the Iceland National Energy Authority. Photo can be found on the website of the International Geothermal Association.

Besides effecting the water supply by drilling geothermal, wells human activity can effect the plumbing system or the seal. Visitors have damaged some springs in Yellowstone, Iceland and New Zealand by throwing rocks, soil, logs, trash and coins into geysers and hot springs. These objects can plug up the vent's sometimes very narrow throats and cause the geyser to have smaller eruptions, change the water temperature of the surface pool or destroy the geyser by blocking its' outlet. Foreign objects should never be thrown into geysers! It will damage and maybe destroy them!! More information on Vandalism and Thermal Features.

The crust of geyserite is thin in places and if walked on can break through. Boardwalks in the geyser areas not only protect visitors from very painful thermal burns but also protect the thermal features from unneeded breaches of their seals. Always stay on boardwalks. If in a thermal area in the back country always stay on solid ground far away from springs . Follow these safety rules in the back country.

GEYSERS ARE RARE. We need to protect those we have!!


Go To Listing of Destroyed Geysers


Return To Wyo's Geyser Page

WyoJones's Geyser Page.
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 2006[Gregory L. Jones]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/02/06