The Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone National Park can blow up 300 meters of scalded water, a feature of the world's highest active geyser. That is known.
What's not known, why did the geyser erupt three times in the last six weeks, including a Friday event in an unusual pattern that has not occurred since 2003?
The pinnacle of activity has puzzled scientists closely watching Yellowstone – the crown jewel of the National Park system, located on a 44-kilometer-diameter violent super volcano.
Although scientists say the reasons for the flood of eruptions are unclear, officials with Yellowstone Volcano The observatory warned that geyser activity was not a sign of impending disaster.
"There is nothing to suggest that any kind of volcanic eruption is imminent," said Michael Poland of Washington Post Observatory Scientist. The last eruption was 70,000 years ago, and there is no sign of another, including the recent steamboat activity, he said Sunday.
Geysers are the result of magma heated water that seeped into the ground and caused a burst of liquid through openings in the earth's surface for tens of minutes, followed by billowing vapor that can take days.
Geysers are still difficult to study. Most have unpredictable outbreaks that can occur at intervals of years, making it difficult to allocate resources such as seismic monitors and cameras, Poland said. For example, no scientists have observed the eruption on Friday. It was reported by a visitor, he said.
Poland said he was not sure what exactly was going on with the Steamboat Geyser.
One possibility he offered: The three eruptions on March 1
The 2003-year eruption series could be associated with a particularly violent thermal disruption affecting trees, nearly killing the boiled paths in the Norris Basin, where several geysers, including steamboats, are found.
Poland also suggested that steamboat reduce pressure from smaller eruptions rather than a big event. The second and third eruptions were about the same size – about ten times the size of the park's famous Old Faithful geyser, Poland said.
But since most geysers produce irregular activity, the eruption trio may "only reflect the randomness of geysers," said Poland. Steamboat erupted several times in the early 1980s, but was inactive for five decades and ended its drought in 1961, he said. So it is difficult to record routine behavior on the geyser.
"That's what geysers do, they break out," said Poland.
The aptly named Old Faithful just south of Steamboat is an outlier with such predictable eruptions. The park runs a Twitter feed from Alerts with a 10-minute margin of error.
But geysers are structurally not similar to each other. "Old Faithful" has a simple sanitary system that probably includes chambers that produce heating, said Poland. The water supply network under the steamboat vent can be more complicated, with uneven magma activity.
What does steamboat activity mean for the risk of an outbreak of the Yellowstone Caldera, an event that could bring together Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago? A foot of ashes?
Essentially nothing, said Poland.
"Yellowstone has this weird psychology about a world-ending event," he said, but the potential for an outburst in this life is incredibly remote. Although Poland said that volcanic eruptions did not follow a timetable, there were no seismic activities that indicated an increased likelihood of catastrophic events.
And Poland said the steamboat eruptions are a good sign that there is no imminent danger. Ascending magma would dehydrate basins, causing geysers to become dormant.
Scientists will meet next week for a planned research priorities meeting, and Poland expects Steamboat eruptions to trigger discussions. It can lead to more resources if researchers think there could be more activities.
"It's cool, it's exciting, it's neat," Poland said about the eruptions. "It's not something to be scared of."