YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest and far more powerful than Old Faithful, is roaring back to life.

Often dormant for decades, it has now erupted nine times in the past few months. It can do what Kilauea has done on Hawaii’s Big Island, only much bigger.

Because the geyser field at Yellowstone National Park lies on top of an active volcano, with multiple chambers of magma from deep beneath the earth, the same energy that causes geysers to blow could spew an ash cloud as far as Chicago and Los Angeles.


“It’s amazing to think of the scale of these eruptions,” said Mike Poland, the scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory.

The eruption that created the park was 70,000 years ago, and there are no signs of that happening anytime soon. But scientists do want to know what’s behind the most recent activity.

“We see gas emissions. We see all kinds of thermal activity. That’s what Yellowstone does. That’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s one of the most dynamic places on earth,” Poland said.

The least predictable geyser in the park is Steamboat. It could erupt in five minutes, five years — even 50 years from now. Yet no one visiting Yellowstone wants to turn away from the sight.

“That would be the chance of a lifetime,” one visitor said. “I would be amazed.”

Timing is everything, and only a lucky few get to see it. Poland’s team of volcanologists are using thermal-imaging equipment to track the temperature of the 50-mile-wide magma field. They also monitor 28 seismographs since a super volcano would include major earthquake activity.

According to a spokesperson for the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, it is not known how long the closure will be in place.

‘The area was closed to protect human safety on July 10 after expanding cracks in a rock buttress were detected.

‘Geologists are monitoring the buttress for movement and have initiated a risk assessment for the area.’

However, according to the spokesperson, other parts of the park are still open, such as the immediate area around Jenny Lake.

The area is not far from the potentially devastating Yellowstone Volcano.

Vast eruptions from the Yellowstone Volcano occurred 2.2 million, 1.3 million and 630,000 years ago.

When it last erupted, the supervolcano produced one of the largest known blasts on Earth, spewing more than 2,000 times as much ash as Mount St Helens did when it erupted in 1980, killing 57 people.


Previous research found a relatively small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface
Recent research found a small magma chamber, known as the upper-crustal magma reservoir, beneath the surface

Nasa believes drilling up to six miles (10km) down into the supervolcano beneath Yellowstone National Park to pump in water at high pressure could cool it.

Despite the fact that the mission would cost $3.46 billion (£2.63 billion), Nasa considers it ‘the most viable solution.’

Using the heat as a resource also poses an opportunity to pay for plan – it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10 (£0.08) per kWh.

But this method of subduing a supervolcano has the potential to backfire and trigger the supervolcanic eruption Nasa is trying to prevent.

‘Drilling into the top of the magma chamber ‘would be very risky;’ however, carefully drilling from the lower sides could work.

This USGS graphic shows how a 'super eruption' of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States
This USGS graphic shows how a ‘super eruption’ of the molten lava under Yellowstone National Park would spread ash across the United States

Even besides the potential devastating risks, the plan to cool Yellowstone with drilling is not simple.

Doing so would be an excruciatingly slow process that one happen at the rate of one metre a year, meaning it would take tens of thousands of years to cool it completely.

And still, there wouldn’t be a guarantee it would be successful for at least hundreds or possibly thousands of years.