Climate change may cause Old Faithful to stop spewing: study

Climate change may cause Old Faithful to stop spewing: study

10/15/2020

Old Faithful is losing steam.

Yellowstone National Park’s landmark geyser has spewed scalding-hot groundwater every 90 to 94 minutes on average, about 17 times a day, since time immemorial.

But that hasn’t always been the case, a new study discovered. Results found that Old Faithful actually ceased to erupt for decades, during a severe drought that took place some 800 years ago, Science magazine reported.

When compared to future climate models, which predict melting ice and extreme drought, their findings suggested that “Eternity’s Timepiece” — another nickname for the iconic hot spring — may soon stop ticking.

The superhot water and high-alkaline environment of Old Faithful are too harsh for most vegetation. So when researchers discovered chunks of petrified wood on the geyser’s mound, they reckoned the specimens must date back to a time prior to regular eruption. Indeed, the 13 chunks of bark were from an estimated 600 to 800 years ago, according to their report, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last week.

“When I submitted the samples for radiocarbon dating, I didn’t know whether they would be hundreds or thousands of years old,” said study author Shaul Hurwitz, a geologist with the US Geological Survey.

One sample proved to be alive at least 80 years before petrification, indicating that Old Faithful stopped spewing for about 100 years, coinciding with the previously established Medieval Climatic Anomaly, which brought unseasonably warm and prolonged dry weather to cooler regions, according to Inside Science.

“It was an ‘aha!’ moment when they all clustered within a hundred-year period in the 13th and 14th centuries,” Hurwitz told Science.

Based on his previous research, Hurwitz and his colleagues believe that climate change, encouraged by humans, has already added one or two minutes of time between Old Faithful’s eruptions. As the climate continues to dry, they predict that “geyser eruptions could become less frequent or completely cease.”

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