Protecting Geysers and Other Thermal Features
WyoJones' Geyser Site
Park personnel cleaning out debris tossed in to Occasional Geyser by
thoughtless visitors at West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY,
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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!!
WyoJones's Geyser Page.
Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998, 2006[Gregory L. Jones]. All rights reserved.