The tallest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser, just erupted on April 27 for the third time in two months. The geyser is typically much more infrequent than that, unlike its fellow Yellowstone National Park geyser Old Faithful. This increase in frequency currently has scientists perplexed.

When the geyser does erupt, it tends to eject a column of water 300 feet in the air. Before it erupted for the first of the recent three times on March 15, Steamboat had not erupted since September of 2014.

According to CNN, park officials “detected activity on nearby seismometers, thermal gauges and water discharge on a U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge.”

Staff rushed to the geyser to witness the steam that emanates from the geyser after the column of water, but no one saw the water column. And since the Norris Geyser Basin is closed to tourists this time of the year, no one had witnessed a water column for the next two eruptions either (the second of which occurred on April 19).

Scientists are now scratching their heads a bit, trying to figure out why it has a been so active lately.

“The fact that Steamboat has erupted three times in the past 6 weeks is a bit unusual for this specific geyser,” Michael Poland, the U.S. Geological Survey’s scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, told CNN.

Steam phase of Steamboat Geyser. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Peaco/NPS

Since some scientists consider Yellowstone to be a supervolcano, there is a thought that it might be related to that. But Poland does not see a direct relationship with these eruptions and the supervolcano.

Currently, there seems to be three possibilities: a new thermal disturbance, the geyser could be entering a period of more frequent eruptions, or it may just reflect the randomness of geysers.

What is certain is more data and information must be gathered to come to any conclusions. Scientists are placing a seismometer near the geyser itself and are hoping for more eruptions. This could give them insight into what is happening sub-surface.

And who knows, maybe one of those eruptions will happen again soon. As Poland hopes, “Perhaps Steamboat will erupt again this summer and then lots of people will get to enjoy the show!”

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