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Observations for New Crater/Steamboat Geyser 2018 May 27


Update: 2018 May 30 11:00 Added some more observations on the eruption. Will probably add more later, along with fixes for typos and bad grammar.


As we rounded the curve beyond the interchange at about 21:35, Suzanne and I could see Grand erupting. It was almost dark. That would be the last Upper Basin activity we would see until Monday, when we would also finally see the Old Faithful area in daylight.

Over the past few weeks I've been running my AppleTV GeyserLog app in a simulator on my computer's second screen. Mostly as inspiration for the upcoming Yellowstone visits, but also to see how the app is behaving. Got to see the start of a Giant eruption that way earlier this month, and since then all the reports of Giant bathtub events.

So wasn't too surprised to see the YVO report of something happening at Norris a week ago on Friday night. The last few intervals had been around a week, which fit perfectly. Sure there wasn't much data to go on, but this activity, at this distance, reminded us of the activity of 1982-- a sudden winter start, quickly becoming regular about one a week or so.

The problem with that was in 1982 the regularity stopped just as suddenly when there were disturbances in June. The later eruptions in early August and early September required more than looking at the calendar. So as the confirmations came in, it became apparent to Suzanne and I that we were going to be spending a lot of time at Norris during our annual Memorial Day visit. Seize the opportunity to see Steamboat while it was still sorta predictable and regular, as it might not be that way when we will be back in July.

We left Satuirday morning while still dark and arrived at Norris so early that the front rank of the parking lot was completely empty. Arrived at the lower platform at 05:30 and began my first Steamboat wait since 1982. That was over 4 continuous days of waiting for nothing to happen. I finally gave up two days before my vacation ended and headed back to the Upper Basin so I could see something erupt. Steamboat erupted two days after I left for home.

According to my notebook, I left the platform twice over the next 15-1/2 hours. Since Steamboat has no known precursors or indicators, it's hard to leave, especially if seeing the start from the parking lot isn't good enough. The weather forecast said cloudy and cool, but it turned out to be mostly sunny. There was one minor rain-shower scare in the evening, but we didn't encounter any real rain until the drive south of Madison Jct.

I tried setting up an old phone as a camera on a tripod and just letting it run, but after 40 minutes, I'd exhausted half the battery. That wasn't going to work, so I just left the camera pointed at the feature and tried to quickly start it when something interesting happened. That had mixed results, because between the reaction time and the number of button presses need to start recording, I often missed the best part.

As evening approached, we had to start making decisions. We almost left before sunset because of a rain shower. By then the activity had been pretty calm for hours, and based on what we'd seen in previous 1980s sits, we weren't encouraged. An hour after a small surge we decided that we'd had enough and needed to risk heading back to Old Faithful for a few hours of sleep.

Fortunately, we avoided all the traffic problems. During the day a herd of bison were migrating up along the Madison and that was causing mile long backups. As it was, when we arrived at Madison Jct. around 2130, the backup to make the left turn from Old Faithful to West Yellowstone was to the big curve above Firehole Canyon Drive entrance.

The next morning it was a relief to look at GeyserTimes and see no reports, and then to not see a huge steam-cloud as we exited the Gibbon Canyon. We arrived back at Norris at about the same time as the previous day, to the same conditions. The minor play from Steamboat seemed more vigorous, but also knew by then that that was subjective.

The day pretty much proceeded like the previous one. It was actually much nicer than we'd expected, as the weather forecast was calling for showers in the morning, which never occurred. The wind was blowing the steam and spray right toward our platform most of the day. But in the afternoon, the clouds built up, and by 18:00 it was starting to rain. I was in the parking lot at the time, and had to quickly get back to the platform where my rain-gear was still in the pack.

That's when the fun began. Around 19:00 we had another nice, large surge. I'd been noting these on Saturday, but not on Sunday. I wanted to read instead. When the next surge came quickly, I was at least able to record it. As the video shows, these subsequent ones came at around 19:06, 19:08, and 19:12 according to my phone's clock. This was the first time they'd come that close together, and so many of them, too.

But not only that, the activity between the surges seemed stronger. A totally subjective observation, but it really did seem like the geyser had tired of jerking us around and was now going to reward us.

After the third surge, I realized that it might be useful to alert those in the parking lot that something different was happening. My radio was buried, but Linda Strasser was able to make a quick report that enabled a few people to at least be headed back when the eruption began. In future waits, I think it important to announce these surges. It may be Guru Geyser Gazing to think they matter, but we haven't much else to go on. If nothing else, it will give people a heads up and that it's time to at least pay attention to that direction and maybe start getting ready to run.

As the video shows, the fifth surge got big fast, and stayed that way. Unlike the previous ones, I didn't catch the dying moments, but instead it was continuing to build. It seemed obvious that this was different, and the video shows that. With 15 or 20 seconds, there was no doubt that we were at least going to see one of the USGS's "minor major" eruptions. (More on that later.)

The first minute or so the water columns for both vents were white, but then the North Vent turned a rusty brown and started throwing rocks. I'm assuming that's how long it takes for the runoff on the slope to turn into a flood and start getting kicked back up. I think the buzzword is "sustainable." It took about a minute for the dry runoff channel in front of the platform to fill with water the color of glacial runoff.

The water phase lasted much longer than I expected, and was much louder, too. On the platform shouting was required if you wanted to say anything. When the steam phase transition began, it got even louder. I could feel the platform vibrating through my feet. The North Vent water steam column was white again.

Around this time, the wind finally shifted so that the platforms were getting doused by the condensation from the stem plumes. This rainfall was gritty and milky. It would be interesting to find out if that is because of the chemistry of the water, or because of fine particles being washed into the vent and ejected up with the steam cloud.

The colors and heights of the water column also kept changing. In the early part of the water phase it seemed that the South Vent was the one more likely to be brown, while later it was the North Vent that was a rich brown. Approaching the time of the transition to steam, it also seemed like the North Vent was no longer a continuous jetting to great height, but was bursting as if the water was trying to force its way through a pool of water. (To use the obvious cliché, think Grand.)

I suspect all this is not due to any deep activity, but because of water washing back into the vents. Behavior which is dependent on the amount of water and the wind direction, As the transition begins, the water supply decreases and stops blocking the vents. The same for the start, at first there's little to no water washing downhill from the north and east, so both columns are tall, continuous and clean.

What I wonder about is the source of all the grit we experienced during the steam phase. Is it from down deep, or more of the stuff washing in? I want to suspect it's the latter. Note that the mound between the vents and the platform is eroding away, exposing small bounders cemented in place by white material. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that this cement is the grit. (Suzanne has some thoughts about the changes in the formations since the 1980s that she plans to publish soon.)

The eruption came at a perfect time, considering the other possibilities. Because it was shortly after a rain, most people were fairly well waterproofed, more than if it had erupted a few hours earlier. Once the eruption started, I would not have wanted to be digging around in my pack for what I needed. (Or frantically shoving things into the pack to keep them dry.)
It wasn't that cold or damp either, so most of the time the eruption wasn't obscured behind fog and mist. It was long enough before sunset so that the entire water phase and the first hour of steam were easily visible. We left as it started getting dark, and didn't feel like we were being cheated.

After we returned to the Old Faithful area, it was time for a celebration and to view our videos. The Bear Pit was an ideal location, as our noisy videos wouldn't disturb our cabin neighbors. As we returned from there, just after midnight, Old Faithful erupted. We gave it the attention we normally do, and kept on walking, despite it being the only other geyser we'd seen since we woke up.

The next day I did a quick run down the basin to take a look at the Giant platform. I got a three minute Bijou pause for my efforts. Grand did not erupt before the time we'd decided to leave, but it did manage to erupt as we were about to leave the parking lot.


There were some differences between the activity during the wait and what I saw 36 years ago. Most notable was the amount of water being put out. Back then, the only time we saw any discharge down the runoff channel was after a superburst or similar large surges. This time the flow down was continuous, with frequent surges from even minor South Vent activity.

There never really was any progression of function as we saw back then. In the half hour leading up to the eruption, I was watching the activity, which as almost entirely South Vent surging. Even between the big surges, which were the only Combined function I remember seeing. (And the first surge may even been a South function.)

Even so, there were times when it could be felt that the activity was higher or lower than normal. We managed to escape several times for food and pit breaks and only once did we miss any sort of surge event.


When does an eruption of Steamboat start? As the video shows, there's not a point where it suddenly bursts up and you can say, "this is it". It just keeps climbing. Suzanne and I agreed that it's the start of the surging. Use the same procedure as used for timing Old Faithful. If the surging doesn't turn into an eruption, you just click the stopwatch. If it does, then you have your start time. The video clip of the eruption starts at 19:15:57, after the surging had started.


One thing that really bothered me is hearing about the attitude of the YVO professionals concerning Steamboat. It appears that they are either not doing a good job of explaining what is going on, or they are passing around bad information. They are also basing way to much of what they say on instrument readings. Readings they have never seen before, and therefor have no idea what they actually mean, other than, "something different" happened. The proper interpretation would be "we don't know, yet,", instead we were getting talk like "minor major event" and water phases that only lated a minute or two.

I pointed out on several occasions that there was no way that statement could be made. Until the start of an eruption, and the subsequent start of water phase were witnessed, they just didn't know what happened. You can't interpret the size of the activity based on erosion or runoff because that is weather and wind dependent. (For example, the parking lot didn't get drenched.)

I also see that they put out info that the eruption started at 19:33. From direct observation we know that's when the transition to steam started. Now that they have some information they can use to interpret their seismograph traces they need to correct that start time, and add disclaimers to the other start times. (Like adding "ie" to them.) I will be pleasantly surprised if they do that any time soon.


Update: 2018 Jun 01 I noticed that the video has been linked by at least one non-gazer site. Those people seem put off by the screaming, and have the need to display their feeble wit in action. So on the hosting site I added, for me, a polite response:

I've noticed that some people linking to this feel a need to comment on the screaming. Let me put it mildly-- Those weren't tourists screaming. You commenters are the tourists. I didn't post this video for you. I posted it for those people who did the screaming (and there were quite a few) and for those people who wanted to be there adding to the screaming. If you don't understand why those people couldn't contain their enthusiasm, then please, stay away and leave the place for people who do.


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New Crater/Steamboat Geyser's Third Vent


As we waited for a potential Steamboat eruption, I noticed what appeared to be a vent well to the right of the South Vent, one that steamed heavily at times, especially on Sunday. It's also to the right of the opening Bill Pulliam called the South Vent Drain, whose action was obvious during the splashing of South Vent. I didn't remember seeing anything like that before at that location. The geometry of the formations around the South Vent and the Drain appear to have changed in the last 38 years, so it may just be something that's been exposed by all the erosion over the years.

Back home, a quick review of Paul Strasser's videos from the early 80s didn't show it, either. But the video of the 1991 Oct 02 eruption does show brownish steam coming out with some force to the right of the South Vent. But this could also be an illusion like the way the North Vent also has a "middle vent" during the eruption. This past weekend was my first visit to Norris this century, so I have no idea how long it may have been there, or when it appeared. More info about it would be appreciated.

In any case, during the eruption, as the video shows, there does appear to be water sloshing out of this "far south" or "antartic vent". The video also shows the vent steaming on Saturday. I didn't take much video on during the wait Sunday. Which is unfortunate as later in the day I was thinking that the steaming was heavier that the day before. It would have been nice to compare video on the two days. It's also possible that this vent is an illusion. Where the steam from the South Vent Drain hugs the wall of the crater, so that it appears to be coming from a vent. I believe that might be an example of the "Coanda Effect", which can be observed in the steam that rolls down Beehive's cone.

During the eruption I thought at times I saw the vent slosh up to maybe 25cm or so, appearing much like an eruption of Turtle Geyser during an eruption of Giant. I couldn't find anything like that, however, on the video I took of the water phase. (Maybe it was in the 23 second gap?)

So it may just be some Guru Geyser Gazing, then again maybe this vent needs a closer watch, something I'm not going to be able to do for a while. And maybe someone need to volunteer to see if there is a vent there...

New Crater/Steamboat Geyser's Third Vent. Video by H.Koenig

Update : 2018 May 31 I thought the 1991 eruption video was available, but it appears to have been taken down from YouTube at some point. The only link I could find goes to a dead YouTube page that doesn't explain anything.


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New Crater/Steamboat Geyser Eruption 2018 May 27


I managed to record the eruption from the start (with a 23 second gap due to operator stupidity) until almost 21 minutes into the eruption. There can quite a bit of jiggling and obscuring of the lens towards the end, as my phone holding arm gets tired after 20 minutes. I also had to try to shield the phone from the geyser rain several times.

New Crater/Steamboat Geyser, 2018 May 27. Video by H.Koenig

I've also included a couple of surges from the previous day, for entertainment purposes. I didn't record the first surge before the eruption, but did record the subsequent ones.
Unfortunately, each clip starts about 4 seconds into the surge event, as that's the amount of time it takes for me to realize I need to start recording, then go through the various button pressings to start recording. So what got all our attention, and what caused all the excitement and screaming is not there. I tried just setting up a camera on a tripod and letting it run, but that never caught any of the surges. It also takes up way too much battery power (about 50% for 37 minutes of splashing), so I couldn't do it as much as I'd like.


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Video Status


I've updated the New Crater/Steamboat video to add a short clip of a superburst recorded in 1984.

Otherwise, I've run out of videos to upload for now. There's a lot more raw material, but I need to spend some selecting and editing and producing the best parts. But it's time to start watching geysers in person. Maybe later this summer a few more items of interest will appear here.


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2000 Great Fountain, Backcountry Geyser


On 2000 June 30, the NPS closed the Firehole Lake Drive because a large hole had developed on one of those wooden culverts south of Firehole Lake. That was a Friday, and with the upcoming holiday weekend, it meant that the road crews wouldn't be available to fix the problem until at least Jul 05.

I heard about the problem late that day, from some geyser gazers who were incensed that they wouldn't be able to get to Great Fountain for days. That night I realized that the situation was exactly opposite. The Firehole Lake Drive was now a backcountry area with a paved bike path through it. At dawn, well before it was time to head back out to Grand, I loaded up my bike and drove to the junction with the Loop road, and parked at the closed gate. No other vehicle was there.

It turned out it wasn't even close to time for an eruption of Great Fountain, but I had the area to myself. My next visit was on Jul 02. By then, a few people had figured the situation out, but as this video shows, it wasn't many.

Great Fountain, Backcountry Geyser, 2000 Jul 02. Video by Paul Strasser

I made one more visit on Jul 04, and the road was repaired and reopened the next day.


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Giant Hot Periods 1988


In October 1987, the first Giant hot periods since 1955 were observed. They started about six weeks after the 1987 Sep 12 eruption. More hot periods were observed in the spring, with the next eruption of Giant on 1988 Jun 28.

More hot periods were observed in late July, just as the fire activity in the park started to pick up. By late August 1988, Giant was having hot periods almost daily. All of us had no idea what to look for or what was the progression of events leading up to an eruption. Notice the confusion over which vents are which, and what they should be called. Also notice also how excited we could get over what we now know are pretty minor hot periods.

Giant Hot Period on 1988 Aug 29. Video by Paul Strasser.
Giant Hot Period on 1988 Sep 02. Video by Paul Strasser
Giant Hot Period on 1988 Sep 04. Video by Paul Strasser

As it turned out, there wasn't much chance of observing Giant due to the fire activity, and the evacuation of the Old Faithful area. Giant did erupt just a week after the last hot period on this video, on 1988 Sep 12.


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1983-1986 New Crater/Steamboat Geyser Minor Activity


Minor Activity of New Crater/Steamboat Geyser in 1983 -- 1986. Video by Paul Strasser

The New Crater Geyser also has a second official name: "Steamboat Geyser". I prefer the first name officially given to it in 1930. It's so much more descriptive and bureaucratic.

Update: 2018 May 30 Added a 1984 superburst, and appearance two days after the 1983 May 24 eruption.