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Reports about Yellowstone’s erupting thermal features, their prediction, and how they work.

Janet celebrates her 75th anniversary in the park, part 5

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Continuing from “Janet celebrates her 75th anniversary in the park, part 4” . . .

In this last installment of this series of her park memoirs, Janet focuses on her geyser memories. If you are just tuning in now, you might want to start with her first post in the series.

Geysers

Old Faithful 2013

Old Faithful Geyser from Observation Point (2013)

The bunkhouse room we slept in faced Old Faithful Geyser. Of course, we watched it often, but we rarely went close. I do not know whether other predictable geyser eruptions were posted in those days, and we never went to wait for Grand or Riverside. I see from George Marler’s Inventory of Thermal Features of the Firehole River Geyser Basins (Geyser Observation and Study Association, 1994) that Grand’s average eruption interval was something like 38 hours in those years.

Two geysers we did see quite often when I got to live at Old Faithful were Great Fountain and Lone Star, both accessible by road in those days. We would take a lunch and a book or our game of Parcheesi and Mother would drive us out north or south to wait for these geysers to erupt. It seems to me we would often have them to ourselves.

The most thrilling geyser-viewing experience I can remember was being roused in the night to drive over to see Giant erupt. Daddy took me on his shoulders so I could see over the crowd. Somehow, the group excitement made more of an impression on me than the actual eruption! According to the Marler Inventory, the first half of the 1940s was a relatively quiet time for Giant, so I was privileged to be there at an eruption. And the next time I got to see one was on July 3, 2006—again with a lot of excited viewers.

Besides going to Lone Star or Great Fountain geysers, we often visited Biscuit or Midway geyser basins. I remember that the surrounding “biscuits” at Sapphire Pool were outstanding; they were destroyed when the pool erupted after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake.

I now realize how extrememly fortunate I was to spend so much time during formative years in the magic environment of Yellowstone. It is ironic that one of the most potentially dangerous places in the world—the Yellowstone Caldera—is also, if one takes sensible precautions, one of the safest.

Our months in the park were some of the most benign and happy of my life. No doubt this is why in my later years I have been thoroughly engrossed in learning and writing about the park I love.

by Janet Chapple

ON THIS WEBSITE: Find the whole series about Janet’s experiences from 1939 to 1942 at “Janet Celebrates her 75th Anniversary in the Park.” Also be sure to see the nugget called “Wonderful Geysers Not to Miss,” and there is a lot more information about geysers elsewhere on the site and, of course, in the guidebook.


The full article “Celebrating an Old Faithful Area Seventieth Anniversary,” was published in August 2009 in the Geyser Gazer Sput, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 5-8.
Janet wrote a longer version of these memoirs at the instigation of Park Historian Lee Whittlesey, and they are now preserved in the library of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana.

Fresh snow at Old Faithful

Categories: Geysers, News, On the Web, Winter
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snowfall Old Faithful

Finally! A real snow cover at Old Faithful Village.

Yesterday was the last day of March, and at last we have a lot of snow on the ground at Old Faithful Village. From a screen shot I took yesterday morning, you can see that the snow now comes to the top of the post holding the Old Faithful Geyser sign. With no wind at all the trees were gorgeous, and seeing this takes me back to magical winter visits to the park.

You can see this for yourself at: www.nps.gov/yell/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm.

Giantess Geyser erupts!

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After a dormant interval of 2 years and 139 days, on this snowy Thursday one of Yellowstone’s most powerful geysers awoke and put on a show for the few Yellowstone visitors in the Upper Geyser Basin. Giantess erupts in spurts of various durations interspersed with roaring steam periods. It may go 200 feet high above Geyser Hill but gives no warning before it starts.

The last eruption of Giantess was on September 13, 2011. It had erupted two or three times per year for the quarter century or so before that.

I got lucky only once in the dozens of times I’ve been in the park. That was on September 5, 2001—note the proximity to 9/11—and our flight home from the park touched down in Rhode Island on the evening of September 10! My friend and map-maker Linton Brown was able to shoot the picture now gracing page 98 of Yellowstone Treasures.

Go Giantess!

The underground mechanism of geysers

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In Earth Magazine for August 2013, I was fascinated to read about two recent studies that have shown convincingly that the very oldest theory explaining geyser activity may be close to the truth, although knowledge is still incomplete and may not apply to all geysers.

Sir George Steuart Mackenzie postulated after visiting Iceland’s geysers in 1810 that a geyser’s plumbing needs to include a horizontal cavity serving as a bubble chamber. There, after an eruption, more and more steam can accumulate between the surface of the water and the roof of the cavity, gradually building up pressure. When the pressure grows too high, the steam and water escape through the geyser’s vertical shaft.

Iceland’s geysers were not part of the studies reported by modern Russian and French researchers. They studied (respectively) the Kamchatka Geyser Valley and Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Volcanologist Alexander Belousov concluded, by lowering video cameras into their shafts, that four geysers in the Kamchatka field have similar configurations that fit Mackenzie’s bubble trap model.

Geophysicist Jean Vandemeulebrouck meanwhile has been revisiting 1992 data from geophones located around Old Faithful Geyser by seismologist Sharon Kedar. By digitizing and analyzing her data, the French team were able to obtain an acoustic picture of OFG’s inner workings. They found that pressure builds up in a bubble trap there between geyser eruptions, just as in the Russian study.

Belousov suggests that the similarity of internal structures could be attributed to landslides in the case of the Kamchatka geysers and to glacial moraine deposits in Yellowstone and El Tatio, Chile (the third of the world’s primary geyser fields). Both types of terrain form conduits and cavities underground, as well as being located over sources of water and geothermal heat.

Besides reading Earth Magazine this month, I gleaned some information for this post from my newly published travelogue by Jules Leclercq, Yellowstone, Land of Wonders, page 117.

Cliff Geyser on Iron Spring Creek

DSCN1762

Free days for Yellowstone and all national parks

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The National Park Service tells us there are five more days in 2013 when entrance into all 59 of the national parks will be free “as a way to encourage people to get outdoors and enjoy the remarkable landscapes and historical and cultural sites national parks have to offer.”

If you live close enough to take advantage of this or can schedule a trip to Yellowstone for one of these days, you can save the $25 per carload fee on the following weekend dates:

  • August 25 for the National Park Service birthday
  • September 28 for National Public Lands Day
  • November 9 to 11 for Veterans Day holiday weekend.

If only I could join you on the benches at Great Fountain Geyser or get to see one of this summer’s amazing dual eruptions of Fountain and Morning Geysers!

Grand GeyserNot having traveled with children in the park for a great many years, I learned a couple of things new to me that might be useful for other parents and grandparents to know about. Stuffed animal toys that Xanterra places in hotel rooms and that I have always pushed out of the way to make room for my own stuff are—not surprisingly—a magnet for little ones. My granddaughter Lexi ended the visit the proud owner of a cuddly bison and an even cuddlier black bear!

Be forewarned that the hotels no longer provide cots in your room for kids. But they are happy to loan you some bedding, so we made nests for Lexi on the floor—and she was out like a light in two minutes each night after crawling in with her animals.

One of our most delightful shared experiences was our geyser day at Upper Geyser Basin. Starting by going to the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center at 8:00 am to copy down the predictions for six major geysers, we set out after breakfast to catch the Grand Geyser eruption, predicted to erupt within about one-and-one-half hours of 10:40 am. Lexi did not complain at all about the wait, and when Grand accommodated us at 11:20 (above) and again with a second beautiful burst at 11:37, she was every bit as thrilled as the other hundred or so visitors watching it.

We went on to visit the wonderful pools and formations beyond Grand and were just in time to catch the Riverside Geyser eruption a little after 1:00 pm. Then our party split into two, and, fortuitously, Suzanne, David, and I caught Grotto Fountain and Grotto Geysers erupting on our way to see Punch Bowl Spring and Black Sand Pool. Returning from that extension of the trail, there was Daisy Geyser erupting as we came back to it! Not to be outdone, Beehive’s Indicator was going before we got back to the Inn, and we were able to see the whole Beehive Geyser eruption. Then, for “dessert,” Old Faithful joined the display not long afterwards. What a geyser day!

2013

Yellowstone annual trip report, 2013

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Beehive Geyser, YellowstoneToday I feel like raving about the delights of getting together with family and friends in Yellowstone. I returned about a week ago from a two-week trip that I had been planning (as always) for many months.

My excellent companions for the two-day drive to the park and during my stay were colleague Suzanne Cane and her husband David Cane. Suzanne and I worked together for six years to turn out our translation of a travelogue about Yellowstone written by 1883 Belgian visitor Jules Leclercq. You can read about our book, Yellowstone, Land of Wonders, in the Amazon.com entry for the book. Both the Canes took tremendous numbers of pictures, including this one of Beehive Geyser.

In addition to David and Suzanne, I was blessed by having two of my daughters, Beth and Karen, and my granddaughter Lexi with me for a few days. At six years old, Lexi is the perfect age to begin what I hope will be her lifetime attraction to and interest in Yellowstone and environs. She participated eagerly in all our walks and expeditions to see many of my favorite places, and was thrilled by Old Faithful and Grand Geyser eruptions. And one of my favorite visual memories is of watching Beth and Lexi and David skipping hand-in-hand down a path. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a grown man skip!

Lots of excitement among geyser gazers—Morning Geyser is erupting!

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Here is something I can only hope will keep happening until I arrive at Old Faithful on June 21st. Rare and phenomenal eruptions of Morning Geyser have been taking place quite frequently since March. Eruptions can go as high as 200 feet, and, best of all, it occasionally erupts in concert with its close but more frequent neighbor Fountain Geyser.

This Fountain Paint Pot area geyser had not erupted since 1994. Its eruptions seem to be somehow tied to those of its close neighbor Fountain Geyser, and geyser blogger Janet White provides us with this advice:

  1. Check Geyser Times for the last known eruption of Fountain Geyser.
  2. Open that entry to find out the duration of that eruption. More than 40 minutes is more encouraging for a Morning Geyser eruption than less than 40 minutes.
  3. A period of 7.5-9.5 hours following the last eruption of Fountain Geyser becomes the forecasted window of opportunity.
  4. Arrive about 7 hours after the last eruption of Fountain Geyser and be prepared to wait a few hours.

More information and Janet’s excellent pictures are at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2013/06/9th-known-dual-eruption-of-both-morning-fountain-geysers.

[9/13/13 update: Morning Geyser is still erupting quite frequently, but I did not manage to see it during my June visit to the park.]

Call up for Old Faithful Geyser!

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Did you know you can not only see Old Faithful erupt on your computer screen but can call on your phone to learn when the next eruption is predicted to take place? Of course, cell phone use is iffy in the park, but Verizon phones seem to do better than most other types (and I have AT&T, which works in some parts of the park).

If you want to try it, call (307) 344-2751. You’ll get the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and then be instructed to dial “one” for the geyser prediction time. To watch the eruption on your computer, use: http://www.nps.gov/archive/yell/oldfaithfulcam.htm.

Of course, when I’m in the park I’d rather know when Great Fountain or Grand Geyser is going to erupt, since those are my favorites. I’ll be going that way again in a couple of weeks. Counting the days!

August 2012

Mechanics of Geysers: New Zealand versus Yellowstone

Categories: Geysers, Janet Chapple's Other Writing, Science
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An excellent explanation of why geysers erupt when “tickled” with soap or detergent appeared yesterday on the science blog of the USA Science Engineering Festival [March 12, 2012]. It is the clearest writing about geyser action I have seen in a long time.

You can read about my experience watching the soaping of Lady Knox Geyser on New Zealand’s North Island in 2003 in my nugget Rotorua Hydrothermal Areas of New Zealand. Here’s what happens when you soap (or really, add detergent to) a geyser, as it appears on that science blog:

At the appointed time, a detergent solution is poured down the channel from which the water erupts. This has the effect of reducing the surface tension of the water that deep within the shaft has been heating up to boiling temperatures due to underground volcanic activity. Surface tension refers to the attractive force between water molecules, and is in fact responsible for water being a liquid at ordinary temperatures. Liquids are characterized by the close proximity of their component molecules, while in gases the distance between molecules is much greater. If the surface tension of a liquid is decreased, the H2O molecules can separate from each other with greater ease, with the result that the liquid turns into a gas. Molecules of “surfactants,” a class of substances that encompasses soaps and detergents, wiggle their way in-between water molecules, allowing the boiling liquid to instantly turn into steam. The steam then forces the water that has collected in the channel to burst upwards, and we have an eruption.

Reading this led me to explore other posts on the blog, including one about integrating the arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, another subject dear to my heart as a dabbler in scientific subjects. Here’s the link:
http://scienceblogs.com/usasciencefestival/2012/03/12/geyser-gets-a-little-help-from/.