Geysers provide a natural laboratory to study eruption processes and the geophysical and hydrological signals that can be measured before, during, and after an eruption. Because they are smaller than volcanic eruptions, and erupt more frequently, they provide a rare opportunity to collect abundant data and develop approaches for integrating and interpreting measurements.
About 3 million visitors to Yellowstone witness the wonders of geyser eruptions. Explanations for these phenomena, however, are limited or lacking. Geyser-like behavior of water and hydrocarbons has also been observed on the ocean floor and at mud volcanoes. Thus improved understanding of geyser behavior may yield insight into other self-organized, intermittent processes in nature that result from localized input of energy and mass. Insights from studies of geysers can also be translated to volcanic systems. This project will integrate field measurements, laboratory studies, and numerical simulations of multiphase flow in geyser systems to address the following basic questions about the geysering process: How does conduit plumbing affect eruption initiation and interval? Do eruptions begin at the top or bottom of the conduit? How many conduit volumes erupt per eruption? Do non-condensable gases play a role in eruptions? Which external processes (e.g., tides, variations in barometric pressure, earthquakes) and internal dynamics (e.g., duration of preceding eruption) influence the interval between and duration of eruption? How are geyser conduits recharged? When and where does vapor form? Answers to this question may offer new insight into triggered seismicity and volcanic eruptions.