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Geysers

Dagejia Pohutu geyser
Dagejia Pohutu geyser in Tibet / Geothermal Geological Brigade of Tibet

WorldBlue Described geysers

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WorldYellow What is included in this category?

This category includes natural geysers, perpetual spouters and cold water geysers of the world.

What are natural geysers?

Geysir and Strokkur erupting simultaneously, June 1984
Geysir and Strokkur erupting simultaneously, June 1984 / Roger Goodman, Flickr.CC BY-SA 2.0.

Hasty hydrogeologist would say: geysers are thermodynamically and hydrodynamically unstable hot springs. "Normal" people would say – geysers are hot springs which at more or less regular intervals shoot up a fountain of boiling water and steam. Sometimes these fountains are even 100 m tall… or even 450 m!

A recipe for a natural geyser

Geysers are a rarity – there are just a few places in the world with true geysers. This is because there are needed four preconditions for a proper geyser:

  • Constant supply of ground water. A permanent flow of groundwater is not that common on Earth – many locations are too dry for this. A continuous flow of groundwater is rare on the summits of volcanoes – locations, which otherwise would be good candidates for geysers. Sometimes not too much groundwater is needed – the climate around El Tatio geysers (Chile) is dry but geysers here are economical and reuse most of the water.
  • Source of heat – magma close to the ground surface – close enough to heat the groundwater above the point of boiling. One should remember that higher up in the mountains the boiling point is at a lower temperature, f.e. in Yellowstone (2300 m above the sea level) the boiling point is at 93° C.
  • Suitable configuration of groundwater reservoir. Underground reservoirs of geysers are very hard to access, but research thus far shows, that reservoirs of geysers might be very complex, consisting of smaller channels and large voids.
  • Tough surrounding rocks. The hydrothermal processes in the geyser create high pressure and fragile rocks quickly lead to the collapse of the geyser. Even the sturdiest rocks can not last these pressures forever – due to this, the lifetime of most geysers is not very long. Most geysers of the world have formed in rhyolite – a specific volcanic rock with a similar chemical composition to granite.
How works a geyser?

When the temperature of water exceeds a boiling point, the water turns into steam which takes at least 1500 times more space than the water. If the boiling point is exceeded in the whole mass of water, an explosion happens.

One of geysers in Mount Recheshnoi Geyser Field, Alaska
One of geysers in Mount Recheshnoi Geyser Field / © Susan Ott Ralph

Thus – after the eruption of the geyser the reservoir has been emptied. Colder water starts to fill up the reservoir – and it starts to heat up. At some moment the whole reservoir is filled with water. At the deepest part of the reservoir, the rocks are hotter and water gets heated beyond the point of boiling. The pressure of the water column above it at first does not allow for the steam to rise up.

Now the water column in the geyser is unstable – and even a single bubble or small stone leads to a sudden eruption, or the eruption starts by itself at a certain moment. The steam suddenly pulls upwards and together with the upper layers of the water flies up in the air. As the water column gets rid of the colder layers of water, the remaining steam also blows up. This continues for some time until the geyser reservoir is empty. Now it can start again…

Types of geysers

There are distinguished two kinds of natural geysers:

  • Cone geysers are erupting from the summit of a small cone – they look like small volcanoes. This cone is shaped by the geyser itself and consists of geyserite – siliceous rock. Geysers in Dallol (Ethiopia) though have created cones of salt.
  • Fountain geysers are beautiful pools without bottom, filled with unusually lucid water. These pools erupt with splashing action.

What are perpetual spouters?

Mumbuga erupting spring, Sempaya Hot Spring in Uganda
Mumbuga erupting spring, Sempaya Hot Springs / sarahemcc, / CC BY 2.0

There are springs which permanently shoot up a boiling water and steam. Here the mechanism is simpler – as the water gets in the reservoir, it is turned into steam almost instantly and is blown up in the air.

Such springs are very interesting natural landmarks – but they are not geysers. Geysers have periodic, visually very impressive explosions, perpetual spouters are permanent and not high.

Unfortunately most tourists and, what is worse – tourism industry – calls them geysers. Wrong!

What are cold water geysers?

Water in many springs is rich with carbon dioxide. If the configuration of the spring reservoir is similar to the one of true geysers, the effect can be similar: at the depth of the spring reservoir is accumulated the CO2 gas. It can not rise upwards due to the pressure of the water column above it. At some moment the pressure gets that high, that the water column above the gas is pushed upwards, like a cork from the bottle of champagne. Ola! A fountain of genuine carbonated water gets off!

One of Analavory geysers, Madagascar
One of Analavory geysers / Rakotozafy Harison Sangitiana, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Cold water geysers are man-made – these are just boreholes which have reached deep layers of carbonated water. Sometimes the upper end of the metallic borehole gets covered with sediments of lime and dissolved iron from the borehole itself – there forms a weird looking cone in orange and brown color.

In some of these springs the water is not cold – it might be even hot. Nevertheless they are powered by carbon dioxide and not steam.

These landmarks are partly artificial and definitely: not true geysers.

There are the following articles about the geysers:

WorldViolet Top 25 geysers and geyser fields

Africa

Dallol hot springs and geysers

Ethiopia

One of the visually most outstanding places on Earth, the hot springs have a high salt concentration that has shaped terraces and other formations of very bright, unusual colors. Among the hot springs, there is also a salt geyser – possibly the only one in the world.

Salt springs in Dallol, Ethiopia
Loburu Geysers and Hot Springs, Lake Bogoria

Kenya

In several geothermal areas around Lake Bogoria, there are more than 10 active geysers, up to 5 m high.

One of Loburu geysers, Lake Bogoria

Asia

Valley of Geysers

Russia

One of the largest and most unusual geyser fields in the world, the only large geyser field in Asia. Consists of more than 200 geysers, most erupting at various angles. Massive mudflow covered approximately two-thirds of geysers but the valley still is a very interesting natural monument. Geyser Velikan is up to 40 m tall.

Valley of Geysers, Russia

Australia and Oceania

Wai-O-Tapu

New Zealand

One of the most beautiful geothermal areas worldwide. Besides Lady Knox geyser, mud pools, numerous hot springs, and sinter terraces it contains a highly unusual hot spring – Champagne Pool, constantly filled with carbon dioxide bubbles. Along the rim of this spring are deposited bright orange arsenic and antimony salts.

Geyser in Wai-O-Tapu
Orakei Korako

New Zealand

A geothermal area with unique, colorful sinter terraces and geysers. The largest geyser field in New Zealand with some 35 active geysers. The lower terrace – Emerald Terrace – is the largest sinter terrace in New Zealand. Part of it is flooded by a hydropower station, submerging some 200 hot springs and 70 geysers.

Orakei Korako, New Zealand
Whakarewarewa geothermal area

New Zealand

Geothermal area in Rotorua city with unique cultural properties. The facilities offered by geothermal fields have been used by Maori since at least 1350 AD – they developed bathtubs, made food here. The area contains seven active geysers including the up to 30 m high Pohutu Geyser.

Europe

Strokkur

Iceland

Strokkur is a very intense geyser, erupting 25 – 35 m high every 4 – 8 minutes.

Strokkur erupting, Iceland
Haukadalur geothermal area

Cortés

Group

Map of Haukadalur geothermal area, Iceland
Geysir

Iceland

Geysir has given the name to the geological phenomenon of geysers. Geysir has been up to 100 m high in the past.

Geysir erupting, August 2009
Hveravellir Geothermal Field

Iceland

Beautiful geothermal field and popular tourist destination. Area contains several notable hot springs and geysers, such as Gjósandi, Bræðrahver, Grænihver, Rauðihver, Öskurhóll, Fagrihver and others. Here are at least six geysers.

Hevravellir Geothermal Field. Öskurhóll in the forefront with Bláhver behind it
Gunnuhver geothermal area

Iceland

A geothermal field with mud pools and fumaroles, former geysers. A legend about a ghost that was dragged in the fumarole.

Gunnuhver geothermal area, Iceland
Krysuvik – Seltun geothermal area (Krýsuvík – Seltún)

Iceland

Spectacular geothermal fields right on the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Hot springs, solfataras, fumaroles, and colored soil.

SeltĂşn geothermal field, Iceland

North America

Old Faithful

United States

The most predictable geyser in the world, erupting almost every 91 minutes. The height of the eruption is up to 56 m.

Old Faithful geyser, United States, Wyoming
Geysers of Yellowstone National Park

United States

This is the largest concentration of active geysers in the world with more than 500 active geysers. Currently, the world’s most powerful geyser, the Steamboat geyser (up to 90 meters high) is here. It consists of several groups of geysers, many being the most spectacular in the world.

Norris Geyser Basin

United States

Very interesting and rich geyser field at the site where two fault lines intersect. Here the geysers contain highly acidic water, which is rare in the world. Here is located the tallest active geyser in the world – Steamboat Geyser. It erupts rarely, but then – up to 116 m high. Amazing is the beautiful Echinus Geyser – the largest acid geyser in the world with interesting formations around it.

Midway Geyser Basin

United States

This geothermal area ontains such interesting features as Excelsior Geyser – a large pool that a century ago exploded up to 91 m high. Here is also the amazing, colorful Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring, United States, Wyoming
Upper Geyser Basin

United States

One of the largest geyser fields in the world with almost 300 geysers. Here are located some of the iconic geysers in the world – Old Faithful Geyser (32 – 55 m high), Beehive Geyser (45 – 60 m high). Giantess Geyser erupts several times in year up to 60 m high, eruption lasts for 1 – 43 hours.

Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone

United States

Second richest geyser area in Yellowstone. Here are such geysers as Great Fountain (up to 67 m tall), Clepsydra, White Dome (geyser with high cone, erupting up to 9.1 m), Fountain.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

United States

Contains Fishing Cone – a geyser cone in lake water. One of the amazing geysers here is Overhanging Geyser – located on an overhanging cliff above Yellowstone Lake. It is amazing to imagine how the hot water is accessing this geyser. The geyser field includes also geothermal features under the lake level.

Steamboat Geyser

United States

The tallest geyser in the world, erupting up to 90 m tall.

Ixtlán de los Hervores geothermal field

Mexico

In this geothermal field earlier used to be up to 14 geysers (it is possible that few still exist near Salitre village). Now here are several artificial geysers. The tallest of these artificial geysers – Ixtlan Geyser – reaches a height up to 30 m.

Ixtlán Geyser, Mexico
Shoshone Geyser Basin

United States

Pristine geyser field with very well preserved, beautiful sinter formations. Contains 110 thermal features, including Union Geyser, Minute Man Geyser (up to 12 m).

Heart Lake Geyser Basin

United States

Comparatively little visited area, contains such geysers as Rustic (up to 14 m), Spike, Deluge Geysers.

Fishing Cone

United States

Unusual geyser, rising as a small island – cone from the lake. Earlier it erupted up to 12 m high.

Fishing cone geyser, Wyoming, United States

South America

El Tatio

Chile

A large geyser field with at least 85 active geysers erupting up to 6 m high. The field is especially impressive in the early morning. At least 100 geysers and 30 perpetual spouters have been active here in historical times.

El Tatio geysers, Chile

WorldYellow Recommended books

Geysers: What they are and How They Work


In Geysers: What They Are and How They Work, T. Scott Bryan explains the geological setting that produces the pressure, heat, and abundant water necessary for a geyser to form and introduces readers to the variables that shape each geyser’s distinct personality. Some geysers spout just inches above a pool of water and others blast hundreds of feet in the air from conical vents. Some remain quiet for decades only to explode unexpectedly several times in a single month while others regularly erupt at scheduled intervals.

The Geysers of Yellowstone, Fifth Edition


This new edition of The Geysers of Yellowstone is the most up-to-date and comprehensive reference to the geysers of Yellowstone National Park, describing in detail each of the more than five hundred geysers in the park. The entire text has been revised and geyser descriptions have been updated based on activity observed through early 2018. Information about a number of significant new geyser developments has been added, as well as recent knowledge about some of the world’s geyser fields outside Yellowstone.


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