With the Yellowstone River surging at unpreceded rates, Yellowstone is seeing interesting changes across the national park. In kind, curious visitors are wondering, “How has June’s record-breaking flood event impacted Yellowstone’s geysers?”
Mike Poland, Yellowstone Volcano Observatory’s scientist-in-charge, is here to answer that very question. Via USGS’s latest monthly update, Poland explains how seismic and hydrothermal activity in the park was affected during June’s catastrophic flooding.
First, a Brief Setup of the Yellowstone National Park Flood Event
“The big event in Yellowstone in the month of June was the flooding. Between June 10th and 13th, an atmospheric river event impacted the area. That’s a weather system of warm, moist air from the tropics. And it dropped more than 2-to-3-inches of rain in some places in the Yellowstone area,” Poland begins. “This contributed to help melting some of that [spring] snow that was on the ground.”
As Poland cites, “It was an unusually cool and snowy spring.” This set the stage for a historic, Yellowstone National Park-altering flood event.
“All of this water ended up in the river systems. In fact, because of the long history of monitoring the rivers in Yellowstone, we know that this flood was unprecedented in the history of that monitoring.”
Fascinatingly, Yellowstone river records go back to 1892. When the biggest river event in recorded park history hit, it devastated park roads and infrastructure, and altered the ecosystem of north Yellowstone. But how, exactly, did this massive amount of water affect Yellowstone National Park’s most famous water features?
How Flooding Impacted Yellowstone’s Water Features: ‘More Frequent Geyser Activity’
When it comes to the flooding impacting hydrothermal activity, “The answer is probably not,” Poland cites.
“There’s also no indication that there would be any increase in the threat of hydrothermal explosions.” A separate event would be needed to cause this, “and a flood just doesn’t do that,” he says.
But “the one possible impact we might see,” however, “is perhaps a little bit more frequent geyser activity,” Poland explains. “There is evidence when we look back, for example, at the record of Old Faithful eruptions. Years with more precipitation see a slightly more frequent eruption interval for Old Faithful. And the time between eruptions decreases slightly.”
“Thanks to our colleagues at @usgsvolcanoes for the latest monthly update!”Yellowstone National Park
“It’s not much, maybe a few minutes,” Poland says of the difference we could see. “But it is statistically significant.”
Whether or not Yellowstone National Park sees more frequent eruptions of Old Faithful now, however, “is something we’ll just have to wait and see.”
For plenty more of Mike Poland’s fascinating Yellowstone work, including possible Steamboat Geyser differences, be sure to check out the full video above.