An 7.9 earthquake in Alaska in 2002 set off 200 smaller earthquakes 2,000 miles away in Yellowstone National Park. Now scientists have discovered that it also changed the schedule of some of Yellowstone's geysers and hot springs, which are near where most of the quakes occurred.
Seismologist Robert B. Smith says, "We did not expect to see these prolonged changes in the hydrothermal system? Several small hot springs, not known to have geysered before, suddenly surged into a heavy boil with eruptions as high as [39 inches]. The temperature at one of these springs increased rapidly from [about 108 to 199 degrees Fahrenheit] and became much less acidic than normal. In the same area, another hot spring that was usually clear showed muddy, turbid water."
Yellowstone has more than 10,000 geysers, and scientists monitored how often 22 of them erupted after the quake. They found that 8 of them "displayed notable changes in their eruption intervals." Smith believes the quake's waves affected the geysers by the changing water pressure underground that feeds them.
Could a earthquake closer to Yellowstone trigger huge explosions? Steam-and-hot water explosions occurred there in prehistoric times and blasted out a hole that now is Mary's Bay on Yellowstone Lake. One such explosion has occurred about every 1,000 years since the glaciers receded from Yellowstone 14,000 years ago, and another one is overdue. Smith says there is no evidence that prehistoric quakes triggered those blasts, so their origin is still a mystery.
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