Mara Reed

UC Berkeley

“Can a small earthquake trigger a big geyser eruption?”

Ground motions from an earthquake can sometimes cause eruptions at volcanoes and geysers. Because eruptions present hazards to people, we want to better understand when and why this earthquake-triggering occurs. We identified an eruption of Steamboat Geyser, a powerful geyser located in Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, on 18 September 2022 that occurred 8 hours and 15 minutes after a small, nearby earthquake. Our analyses suggest that the chance of this occurring by coincidence is low, the ground motions caused by the earthquake were great enough to affect a geyser, and the underground hot water system was disturbed almost immediately.

We conclude it is more likely than not that the earthquake triggered Steamboat’s eruption. The earthquake shaking might have temporarily altered the speed and/or direction of water (and thus, heat) flow underground. Such a change would take time to push the conditions inside Steamboat’s local plumbing system toward an eruptive state, which is consistent with the observed delay between shaking and eruption.

ABSTRACT

Earthquakes can change geyser activity by influencing underground water flow. We take advantage of data from a well-monitored geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park to investigate a possibly earthquake-triggered eruption of Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser.
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