Old Faithful Reveals New Secrets

Photograph by W. H. Jackson

Old Faithful Reveals New Secrets

A hidden chamber below the geyser may drive its iconic eruptions.

By Susan Cosier
Published: July-August 2013

For two centuries Yellowstone's famous geyser has reliably erupted every 60 to 110 minutes. Geologists had thought that the spray came from a long, narrow conduit in the ground, but recent research indicates that activity in the main channel alone might not trigger the eruptions, and that a hidden underground pocket is actually key to the 130-foot-high spray.

Cameras can be lowered only so far into the geyser's mouth because of the scalding water, so French geologists instead used seismic data collected since the 1990s. The data revealed a previously unknown side chamber 50 feet below the surface, the researchers reported in Geophysical Research Letters. The reservoir fills up with pressurized steam at the beginning of each cycle and "plays a major role" in how regularly the geyser erupts and how high the water sprays, says Jean Vandemeulebrouck, a geophysicist at the Universite de Savoie in France and lead author of the study.

This story originally ran in the July-August 2013 issue as "Thar She Blows."

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Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is former senior editor at Audubon magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susancosier.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Dear Author/Editor (whomever

Dear Author/Editor (whomever reads these),

Reading this article left me with many questions unanswered. I am not implying that the research is not complete enough, however I believe that I a little more background information was necessary. I am not an expert on nature, so I have limited information on Old Faithful. I know that it is a famous geyser, however I do not have a very good idea geysers work. Because of this, I think it would be wise to give the reader a little bit of information on geysers so we can compare them to Old Faithful.

Even if they all are like Old Faithful, it would be a good place to start. I also started to wonder what "seismic data" is. It may be a simple term, but I do not quite understand. Again, I am not saying that this article was bad in any way. It simply left me a little confused. These may be simple issues that others don't experience, but I would appreciate you to better explain it.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this message,

~Sarah G.

Amazing how nature works

Amazing how nature works things out, but I am sure man will want to do something with the cavern and mess things up. AS USUAL!!!!

Woh.. Mother Nature is

Woh.. Mother Nature is Great.. People trying to murder mother nature or attempting to do it.

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