The Yellowstone National Park geyser Old Faithful stopped erupting 800 years ago, and that may happen again due to climate change, scientists said in a new study.
Old Faithful eruptions
Researchers from the US Geological Survey gathered pieces of mineralized wood from the mound near Old Faithful. They wanted to investigate a phenomenon observed over the last few decades, Live Science reported.
In recent years, scientists have found that the interval between eruptions at Old Faithful has grown significantly. It went from 60-65 minutes in the 1950s to roughly 90-94 minutes since 2001.
The researchers collected more than 40 mineralized wood remnants from the period between 1233 and 1362 A.D., according to Fox News. That time was an era of extreme droughts. And scientists believe we could be headed for another period of droughts again this century.
Climate models say drought
“Climate models project increasingly severe droughts by mid‐21st century, suggesting that geyser eruptions could become less frequent or completely cease,” the US Geological Survey researchers wrote.
Wood from trees cannot currently be found on the mound near Old Faithful. The geyser’s eruptions prevent germination and seedling growth. But during periods when the geyser stopped erupting, trees have briefly sprouted in that location.
The researchers were excited to find the remnants hailed from a time known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly or Medieval Warm Period. It was a period of marked megadroughts across the region and all over the world.
“When I submitted the samples for radiocarbon dating I didn’t know whether they would be hundreds or thousands of years old,” lead author and geologist Shaul Hurwitz told Science. “It was an ‘aha!’ moment when they all clustered within a hundred-year period in the 13th and 14th centuries.”
They believe that Yellowstone is on track to see more droughts and wildfires by the middle of this century. And that, they say, could put Old Faithful to rest once again.
“The new 14C dates of mineralized wood suggest that severe, long-duration drought events can lead to Old Faithful Geyser eruption cessation,” the researchers wrote. “Climate models project increasingly severe droughts and large fires by mid-century leading to a major transformation of Yellowstone’s ecosystems.”