Feb 27, 2007
Steamboat Geyser at Yellowstone National Park recently shot a plume of steam several hundred feet into the air, and geyser watchers wondered whether it was erupting for the first time since May 2005. There were other indications, too, including the draining of nearby Cistern Spring, often a telltale sign that Steamboat had ripped into one of its famous, and RARE, eruptions. But one thing was lacking: the thousands of gallons of water that flow out of Steamboat during those spectacular events. Without that significant flow of water, park officials can't classify the event as a major eruption. Instead, they're calling the Feb. 21 event, and a similar one Feb. 11, a "forceful minor eruption" that put out gobs of steam, raised temperatures, made a little noise and, among people who track Yellowstone's geysers, caused a bit of a stir. "I would kind of describe it as somewhat of a burp rather than a full eruption." Those kinds of minor eruptions aren't rare, but it's UNUSUAL to see seemingly contradictory signs of big doings at Steamboat. One of the biggest questions now is whether the activity at the geyser, located at Norris Geyser Basin, is a sign that it's preparing for a major eruption. Intervals between recorded eruptions range from four days to 50 years. The geyser fell quiet from 1991 to May 2000. Since then, seven major eruptions have been recorded, more than at any time since the early 1980s. "What's happening here? We don't know."