Reawakened Yellowstone geyser isn’t a sign of imminent explosion

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INTRO: A recent reawakening of the tallest geyser in the world is not a harbinger of an imminent volcanic eruption, a new study reports. And it isn’t likely to portend a dangerous hydrothermal explosion either, which can occur when superheated water turns to steam and bursts violently out of the confining rock, researchers report in the Jan. 12 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The reason for the sudden restart of Steamboat Geyser, found at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, remains a mystery, the scientists say. But the study, which examines a wealth of seismic, environmental and other data from the Yellowstone region, is helping scientists better understand what makes Steamboat, and other geysers, tick.

After over three years of dormancy, Steamboat abruptly shot a towering stream of hot water into the sky on March 15, 2018. That event kicked off a new active phase for the geyser, one of Yellowstone’s most famous features — and made some park watchers wonder if the sudden eruption warned of greater dangers yet to come.

When it comes to potential threats at Yellowstone, the supervolcano itself gets most of the attention (SN: 1/2/18). But its deep reservoir of magma also heats groundwater that circulates underground or pools on the surface — and those boiling waters pose a far more immediate threat to park visitors. “Probably the biggest hazard in Yellowstone is people going off trail and falling in the boiling water. But there’s always a risk of hydrothermal explosions,” says Michael Manga, a geologist at the University of California, Berkeley... (MORE)

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