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Waiting for New Crater/Steamboat

Since the start of the latest period of activity of New Crater/Steamboat, I've managed to see fourteen of the eruptions, all from the start, and all from my chosen viewpoint (platforms or the bridge). The amount of time waiting for each has varied considerably. I've seen enough eruptions that some statistics on the waits can be gathered.

First, there are two ways to determine how long is a wait. It can either be the amount of time waiting for an eruption since the previous eruption, or the amount of time waiting since the last observed eruption. Going by the first, I've waited 24 times, and didn't see anything ten of those waits. Only three times did I see an eruption on the first day of waiting after seeing the previous eruption.

Since I have seen eruptions from the start, I don't feel the need to wait in the cold and dark to experience a lot of noise with not much of a view. So I'm not going to arrive much before dawn, and will clear out around dark. (That I'd rather drive as little in the dark as possible, especially in the evening, is another factor. I have no desire to encounter a bison on the road.)

The amount of daylight varies depending on the season, but even in October there can be as much as nine hours of daylight. In June I have put in close to fifteen hour days.

The shortest waits were less than a day. In October of the first year of activity I actually had a wait of 2h20m, and in several other cases I got the eruption in the middle of the day or early evening.

On the other hand, I've had long waits. The most for a particular eruption, without seeing it, was early in 2020, when I waited almost 55 hours without success. I've also had other waits well over 30 hours with nothing to show for it.

When looking at just the amount of time put in since the previous eruption, things get worse. I had to put in 154 hours, going back to the start of September last year, for the first eruption I saw in 2020. In the middle of the summer of 2019, there was another 62 hour stretch.

Date Seen? Days Wait Time Total Wait
2018 May 27 Seen 2 19h05m 19h05m
2018 Jul 20   1 9h45m  
2018 Aug 04 Seen 3 22h50m 32h35m
2018 Sep 07 Seen 2 12h50m 12h50m
2018 Sep 17 Seen 1 5h35m 5h35m
2018 Oct 08 Seen 1 2h20m 2h20m
2018 Oct 15 Seen 3 16h40m 16h40m
2019 May 20 Seen 2 12h05m 12h05m
2019 May 27   3 34h45m  
2019 Jul 24   1 12h20m  
2019 Jul 30 Seen 2 15h40m 62h55m
2019 Aug 27 Seen 2 17h10m 17h10m
2019 Sep 03   2 27h25m  
2019 Sep 11   3 37h35m  
2020 May 31   4 54h40m  
2020 Jun 29   2 26h00m  
2020 Jul 03 Seen 1 8h30m 154h10m
2020 Aug 03 Seen 1 3h40m 3h40m
2020 Aug 09   3 30h50m  
2020 Aug 14 Seen 1 9h30m 40h20m
2020 Aug 20   1 9h35m  
2020 Aug 26 Seen 3 40h10m 49h45m
2020 Sep 01   1 13h05m  
2020 Sep 09 Seen 3 30h15m 43h20m
Totals 14 (24) 48 471h30m Ave: 33h40m

That's a total of over 471 hours, not quite ten hours per day, spread over 48 days. Or 33h40m per eruption seen, or 19h40m for each wait.

The whole point of this is that there is no "luck" involved in when a person sees sees so many eruption. I wasn't the only person who spent a lot of time on that platform, and ended up seeing as many or more eruptions. We all put in a lot of time out there.

The wait time for the first eruption I saw also doesn't include the time I spent in 1982 and didn't see anything. It was late August/early September, and I was in Yellowstone for a two week vacation, before going back to work in Oregon. At the time there weren't that many gazers, so Fred Hirschmann, the head naturalist at Norris, let us sleep out on the old middle platform, as long as our gear wasn't visible when visitors were around. His rationale was that it was better to have us out where our locations would be known, rather than our skulking around in the woods and becoming bear bait. (Despite this, at least one person still insisted on skulking about during the night.) I ended up spending about 100 hours, straight, on that platform waiting for nothing to happen. Occasionally would wander over for Echinus, but didn't want to be out of sight any more than necessary.

That was the year some those of us waiting got so tired of the constant repetition of the same questions that we started pinning cards with answers to those common questions on the railing. (A FAQ before the term was invented.)

I finally gave up when I had just a couple of days left in my visit, just so I could see something else erupt. As it turned out, the eruption finally took place about two days after I left. Other than stopping by while visiting Norris for other reasons, I never did wait again until 2018.

So in some sense, I put in about 120 hours for that first eruption, in two sessions spaning 36 years.

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Size Comparison of Thermal Areas

While preparing for another attempt at visiting the thermal areas of New Zealand and Iceland, as well as the western U.S., it occurred to me that it shouldn't be too difficult to compare the sizes of the various area. In The Transactions Vol. 7, T.Scott Bryan does a comparison of the size of some thermal areas. He just presents some basic line drawings, while I figured I could download satellite maps set to the same scale, which would give a lot more details.

The two areas I couldn't include completely are the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. They are huge compared to everywhere else. Instead I limited them to Geyser Hill/Old Faithful areas and the Fountain Paint Pots. The only other thermal area presented here that doesn't quite fit is Waimangu, where I wasn't able to include the lakeside thermal area.

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100 Meter Sputs

Update 2020-Mar-27: Added section comparing aerial views from 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2018.

In 1984, Bill Pulliam wrote up a paper on his observations of New Crater/Steamboat Geyser entitled "The 100 Meter Sput." In it, he pointed out that only two features were known to have reached that height, the other being Waimangu Geyser at Waimangu, New Zealand. Many other features have reached 90 meters (300 feet), but in the past year, I've discovered references to a third eruptive feature that was estimated to erupt well over 100 meters.

My very rough measurements of New Crater/Steamboat Geyser eruptions have returned heights as much as 123 meters (405ft), and others have arrived at similar and even much higher heights.

Waimangu Geyser hasn't been active in over a century. It's not just dormant, it's gone, and won't be coming back. When we visited the Waimangu thermal area of New Zealand in 2019, the tourist trail between Frying Pan Lake and Inferno Cauldron goes right through the site of the geyser crater. We walked through there without realizing it. Only on our return trip out did we notice that unlike much of the rest of the crater, there was a large circular area where not much was growing. This is an area where otherwise the "bush" is thick where it's not been cleared for agriculture. What thermal activity there is in that area consists of sputs along the stream that empties Frying Pan Lake. I think there's little danger of Waimangu itself coming back to life.

What are the three hundred foot/ninety meter sputs? I've found references to a few of them.

The obvious ones are Giant Geyser and Excelsior Geyser in Yellowstone. There have not been reports of Giant erupting up to 300 feet although I've measured an eruption at 72 meters, and know I've seen higher.

Excelsior is said to have erupted to "as high as" 300ft, which would be 90 meters.

The first eruptions of Semi-Sentinial, north of Norris, were described as being around 300 feet.

Some say that Great Fountain superbursts can reach up to 250ft, but i've not heard of any hard measurements to support anything higher.

In Iceland, there's Geysir, said to erupt to up to 200ft in years past, but that's nowhere close to 90 meters.

At Dolina Geizerov, Grot was reported to have a horizontal throw of 250ft, but in a broad arc without a similar height.

In New Zealand, before the Ohaki Dam flooded the area, Orakeikorako had Minguini Geyser, which was described as erupting up to 295 feet. That's almost exactly 90 meters.

This past year I discovered references to a third "100 meter sput" feature.

In New Zealand there was an eruption of a feature to heights estimated well over 100 meters. That feature is S-721, located in Kuirau Park in downtown Rotorua. On the eastern side of the park are numerous muddy thermal features. These are mostly in a line south of the large, clear, boiling Kuirau Lake at the north end, and there is a second line of features perpendicular to that forming a sort of sideways "T". There are also a few hot holes here and there. The smaller features are surrounded by wooden fences, either as groups or individual springs, and the areas between them are mowed lawns or thick stands of trees. In the larger areas in the southwest quadrant of the park, there are athletic fields for cricket and rugby, and in the middle, parking lots have been used for a Saturday farmer's market. Since restrictions on well use were put in place in the 1980s, a number of buried features have reappeared at the western end of the perpendicular line of features, to the consternation of the landowners who build houses over some of them. Several of those lots on the west boundary have been incorporated into the park. It's definitely a unique thermal area.

Kuirau Park, 2001 January 26 after eruption of S-721

From 2003 Master's Thesis by Ashley Cody, Univ. of Waikato, " Geology, History and Stratigraphy of Hydrothermal Eruptions in the Rotorua
Geothermal Field"

On 26 January 2001 at c. 1600 hrs NZST, a hydrothermal eruption occurred from an acid sulphate pool in Kuirau Park, mapped as S721. Some 1200m3 of material (about 2000 tonnes) was erupted within about 4 minutes, with blocks of 1m diameter being thrown 70m to the northeast and blocks to 0.15m diameter being thrown to -110m, also to the northeast. This eruption was unusual because the eruption column was inclined to the east from vertical, and erupted debris was ejected to the east, with very little being distributed to the west, north or south. Breccia clasts were examined by Siako (2002) and an older hydrothermal eruption event was recognised by its cemented breccia clasts within the 26 January 2001 ejecta, although its source vent was not identified. [pg.28]

Peter Goodwin (ROC) was in the Aquatic Centre [southwest of the feature] at the time and a colleague called out to him to look at the eruption. He indicated an angle at which he looked up to its top, which equated to 25° or 30° over a distance of -250 m. This gives a height range of 117-144 metres. From his vantage point it appeared to be a vertical column, with big rocks falling out of the dark muddy column, which was surrounded in white steam clouds. [pg.49]

S721 was quite unnotable and without any progressive change throughout several spring surveys spanning 1920s until 1998. It is located at about U16 946361 (Map 3, Map Pocket), and on the afternoon of Friday 26 January 2001 at c. 1645 hrs it suddenly erupted into a powerful hydrothermal eruption. The eruption column was unusual in that it was strongly inclined off the vertical towards the east. It rose to about 100 m height and persisted for about 4-4.5 minutes, with large blocks emitted from amongst a dark muddy column and white steam cloud. A steady loud roaring noise accompanied the eruption, which appeared to be steady in its emission of fine ejecta. [pg.90]

At the time of eruption the weather was overcast and showery rain, with a strong westerly wind of about 20-30 kilometres per hour. It is estimated that 99% or more of eruption ejecta was dispersed in an easterly direction, with very little material landing to the north, south or west of the crater (Fig. 3.32). This ejecta deposit was aligned strongly to the east with two conspicuously separate axes of distribution.
A fine wind borne plume of grey mud composed of silt to clay size particles was swept off along an axis of 082°. This formed a continuous ground cover to at least 200 metres distance, over and beyond Ranolf Street and over the Fletcher Challenge Rescue helicopter at its helipad up on Hospital Hill. The mud plume coated cars parked at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, about 1.5 km to the east. Aerial photographs and field studies confirmed the block ejecta dispersed along an axis of about 066°, with the wind-borne mud dispersed along about 082°. [pg.94]

There was also a short report on the eruption a few days later:

Near a road that goes through the park there had been a fairly quiet, murky pool about three meters across, not much different from all the other pools that dot this park. That feature, for 15 minutes in the afternoon of 2001 January 26, erupted to heights estimated well over 100 meters. When the activity subsided, the pool was now about 10 meters across, and left several debris fields across the park and onto a city street well over 100 meters away. [26 January 2001 - Eruption at Kuirau Park, Rotorua]

In 2006, another feature, S-615, to the east of S-721, had a similar eruption, although not as tall and destructive. From From 2006 Master's Thesis by Angela Louise Doherty, Univ. of Canturbury. "Blue‐sky eruptions, do they exist? Implications for monitoring New Zealand’s volcanoes."

A second, smaller eruption occurred in the park on 10 December 2006. This eruption lasted over an hour and ejected mud and blocks 15 m into the air, landing up to 30 m from the pool (New Zealand Herald, 2006). This eruption, from Spring 615, occurred close to the 2001 eruption of Spring 721 but was much smaller in size.

Unfortunately, despite spending several hours in the park during our visit there last year, recording video of the features, I didn't go past either S-721, and didn't know about S-615's past. They're now high on the list should I ever visit again. (S-615 is the large pool in the upper right of the photo, next to "JC's Fountain" monument.) Then again, imagine an eruption of New Crater/Steamboat in the middle of a city park, because that's what happened, and it could happen again.

Finally, here's a link to 30 minutes of video I took of our visit to Kuirau Park, Rotorua on 2019 January 21.

Update: Came across a NZ government website with aerial photos taken over the last 20 years. Below are comparisions of the area around S-721 showing the area before the eruption, and years later.

Note on pronunciation-- In Te Reo Maori, the language of the Maori iwi (tribes) of New Zealand, syllables of the words consist of an optional consonant followed by a vowel or vowel pair. No exceptions, even for imported, foreign words. There are only 12 consonant sounds. The letter pairs "wh" and "ng" are considered to be single consonants. The first, "wh" is now pronounced like a soft "f", but originally was more of a "fw" sound. The other, "ng" is described in a pronunciation guide as "sounds soft like singer, not hard like finger." So "Waimangu" should be pronounced Wai-ma-ngu, not Wai-mang-u or Wai-man-gu.

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150 years

I don't normally care much for anniversaries, but here's just a quick note that it was 150 years ago on 1870 Sep 18 that a number of geysers were named, including Old Faithful, Beehive, and Grotto.

Then again, get ready for the hype for 2022 March 01, which fortunately, will be at a time when the park will be mostly shut down.

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Reference Material on New Zealand Geysers and Thermal Activity

In preparation for our visit to New Zealand thermal areas, I tried to find out as much about current activity as I could. There wasn't much. It turned out that some of the most useful were items I'd accumulated over the last few decades. For example, the map of Artist's Palette at Orakeikorako is still accurate and useful in referring to features there.

We also walked right past Waiotapu Geyser without realizing it, as it no longer has a sign. Thanks to the map I'd scanned, we were able to go back and find it. And the description of the activity from 1958 still fits.

Here are the number of publications, maps and other reference material that I scanned which are useful for geyser gazing:

Also, here are a number of links that I found useful, or at least entertaining:

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Steamboat Springs & Chicken Soup

Recently on eBay I picked up an interesting item. It's a flyer for the old Steamboat Springs Spa. The mention of access via passenger service on the Virginia & Truckee RR puts the date of this flyer before 1950, as that's the year the railroad ceased operations.

But what interested me was the mention of "Chicken Soup Springs". Don White mentions it in one of his USGS Professional Papers on Steamboat Springs [#458-C, 1964, pg. 74], as being #33, a spring located near Steamboat Creek south of the present-day spa buildings. I never visited it myself, as we always avoided the spa grounds.

White says that during the 1950s the discharge from this spring was fairly high as long as the discharge from nearby wells was low. The water in that spring must have been pretty bad to taste that way, and I doubt it had much nutritional value.

On the other hand this history of the Compstock Silver Lode & Mines claims that there was a "Chicken Soup Spring" located at Shaw's hot springs "a mile west of Carson City". (Waring, in [USGS PP-492, Nev.#59], lists it as 2 miles north of Carson City.) It also mentions another spring known by that name near Elko. So it may be that "chicken soup spring" was almost a generic term applied to any foul tasting or smelling spring in Nevada.

So now the question becomes, did Spring #33 acquire the name because every location with brackish springs in Nevada require it, or was it an original name that spread to other areas? And why doesn't Yellowstone have a spring with such a name?

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The name of the most famous geyser of its day, Geysir at Haukadulur in Iceland, ended up becoming the generic term in many languages for all erupting, boiling hot springs— the word "geyser". I propose that something similar be done to identify and distinguish artificial geysers, or erupting wells, from their natural counterparts.

Most of these features are out of the way, neglected, or at best, local curiosities. But there is one with delusions of grandeur, and I propose that it's name become the generic term for all of these features.

Throughout the Western U.S. are a number of these features. They can be the only feature, as at Lakeview, Ore., or the dominant feature with other, natural springs nearby, as at Green River, Utah., or one feature among many natural features, including natural geysers, as was the case at Steamboat Springs and Beowawe, Nev. The driving mechanism can either be heat and boiling temperatures, as at the Nevada sites, or gases in the water, as in Utah.

Located in Northern California is a tourist trap based on an eruptive feature, the so-called "Old Faithful Geyser of Calistoga." Billed as a true geyser, it is the last of what seems to be several erupting wells in the Calistoga area in the early 20th century. Early 20th Century postcards make reference to a whole host of them, including one card that shows two features erupting together.This feature should not be compared to Old Faithful Geyser, but the name "the Firehose of Calistoga" just doesn't have the same effect.

But we should give this feature some credit, I've proposed that an erupting artifical features be refered to as "a calistoga". The word has a nice ring to it, and in the realm of true geysers, is otherwise completely meaningless. And because the word has been in use as a placename for over a century, it doesn't have the artificial feel of modern corporate names, or of deliberate attempts to coin a descriptive term.

About a decade ago, there was even a calistoga in the Old Faithful area. Well, sort of one.

1998 July 27

If the specifications require that a fire water line be laid at a depth of six feet to prevent freezing, do so, even if the ground is so hot that small thermal springs are breaking out in the trench. This is what happened when a new fire line was placed along the service road behind the Lower Hamilton's store around 1978-1979. Immediately afterwards several hydrants behind the store along the service road were found to be so hot that they were unusable for emergencies. Some still are. Around some of the hydrants, the discoloration of thermal alteration of soil and rock, normally only visible around natural thermal features, are easily visible.

These photographs show another one of the results that were a common sight in the last few years of the 1990s — pressure build-up that several times a week had to be released by NPS maintenance. After a few years, like most thermal features, it went dormant as the heat and pressure subsided.

There might be some who object that the hydrant wasn't a true calistoga, since eruptions had to be initiated by someone using a wrench to open a valve. But many other calistogas are subject to human control (most notable, Lady Knox Geyser in New Zealand), and that is hot water being thrown in those photos.

[Parts of this posting appeared on 2002-Apr-19 in an earlier version of this weblog.]