A new study performed by scientists at the University of California, Berkley have finally solved the mystery behind the Old Faithful and why geysers erupt periodically. It appears that their underground plumbing is looped with plenty of side-chambers, which causes steam to heat up the water and make it erupt. The results of the study were published in the February issue of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.
Volcanologists at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Carolina Munoz-Saez, a UC Berkeley graduate student from Chile and professor of Earth and Planetary Science, Michael Manga found why geysers erupt. It appears that there are that underground loops and bends that trap steam which then slowly heats up the water column above it until it is almost boiling hot. The water column boils water from the top downward, which causes steam and water to be expulsed hundreds of feet into the air.
Manga detailed their finding:
Most geysers appear to have a bubble trap accumulating the steam injected from below, and the release of the steam from the trap gets the geyser ready to erupt. You can see the water column warming up and warming up until enough water reaches the boiling point that, once the top layer begins to boil, the boiling becomes self-perpetuating.
Manga spend years understanding the mechanics behind geysers. He studied them in Yellowstone, which houses half of the world’s geysers and Chile. He and his students also build their own geyser in the laboratory from glass with a loop. This one, too erupts periodically, but not as regularly as a real geyser. El Jefe, for example, is a geyser in the Atacama Desert in Chile that erupts every 132 seconds (give or take two seconds).
There are few geysers in the world, around 1,000 and all of them are located in formerly active or active volcanic areas. Water from the Earth’s surface goes back into the soil and gets heated up by magma and then rises back to the surface in the form of mud pots, hot springs and geysers.
Manga is studying geysers to gain insight into volcanoes and volcanic eruptions, which are somewhat similar to geysers, but much harder to study and observe. He gathered his data by inserting temperature and pressure sensors 30 feet deep into geysers and correlated the data with measurements obtained from the surface by seismic sensors. This way he deduced the sequence of events from the underground that lead up to an eruption.
One of our goals is to figure out why geysers exist – why don’t you just get a hot spring – and what is it that controls how a geyser erupts, including weather and earthquakes.
Image Source: Wikipedia