Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Geysers have loops in their plumbing

25.02.2015

Periodic eruptions tied to underground bends and side-chambers that trap steam bubbles

Geysers like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park erupt periodically because of loops or side-chambers in their underground plumbing, according to recent studies by volcanologists at the University of California, Berkeley.


Volcanologist Michael Manga and student Esther Adelstein use a laboratory geyser they built to explain how geysers like Old Faithful work.

Credit: Roxanne Makasdjian and Phil Ebiner, with additional footage by Eric King and Kristen Fauria.

The key to geysers, said Michael Manga, a UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science, is an underground bend or loop that traps steam and then bubbles it out slowly to heat the water column above until it is just short of boiling.

Eventually, the steam bubbles trigger sudden boiling from the top of the column, releasing pressure on the water below and allowing it to boil as well. The column essentially boils from the top downward, spewing water and steam hundreds of feet into the air.

"Most geysers appear to have a bubble trap accumulating the steam injected from below, and the release of the steam from the trap gets the geyser ready to erupt," Manga said. "You can see the water column warming up and warming up until enough water reaches the boiling point that, once the top layer begins to boil, the boiling becomes self-perpetuating."

The new understanding of geyser mechanics comes from Manga's studies over the past few years of geysers in Chile and Yellowstone, as well as from an experimental geyser he and his students built in their lab. Made of glass with a bend or loop, it erupts periodically, though, surprisingly, not as regularly as a real geyser they studied in the Atacama desert of Chile, dubbed El Jefe. Over six days of observation, El Jefe erupted every 132 seconds, plus or minus two seconds.

"At many geysers it looks like there is some cavity that is stuck off on the side where steam is accumulating," Manga explained. "So we said, 'Let's put in a cavity and watch how the bubble trap generates eruptions.' It allows us to get both small eruptions and big eruptions in the lab."

Manga and his colleagues, including first author Carolina Munoz-Saez, a UC Berkeley graduate student from Chile, report their findings on the Chilean geysers in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. A description of the laboratory geyser appeared in the September 2014 issue of the same journal.

Balance of pressure and temperature

Fewer than 1,000 geysers exist around the world - half of them in Yellowstone - and all are located in active or formerly active volcanic areas. Water from the surface trickles downward and gets heated by hot magma, eventually, perhaps decades later, rising back to the surface in the form of hot springs, mud pots and geysers.

Why geysers erupt periodically, some with a regularity you can set a clock by, has piqued the interest of many scientists, but German chemist Robert Bunsen was the first to make pressure and temperature measurements inside a geyser - the Great Geysir in Iceland, after which geysers are named - in 1846. Based on these measurements, he proposed that eruptions start when water starts to boil at the surface, reducing pressure within the superheated water column and allowing boiling to propagate downward from the surface. Pressurized water boils at a higher temperature, so reducing the pressure on overheated water allows it to boil.

Since then, Manga said, a few researchers have stuck video cameras into geysers and seen features that suggest there are underwater chambers or loops that trap steam bubbles. Manga's measurements in Yellowstone and Chile link the temperature and pressure changes down the water column with the underground plumbing to explain the periodic eruptions.

Geysers key to understanding volcanoes

Manga studies geysers to gain insight into volcanic eruptions, which bear many similarities to geysers but are much harder to study. Manga and his students feed temperature and pressure sensors as deep as 30 feet into geysers - something impossible to do with a volcano - and correlate these with above-ground measurements from seismic sensors and tiltmeters to deduce the sequence of underground events leading to an eruption. They have also been able to submerge video cameras as deep as six feet into geysers to view the submerged conduits and chambers below. He hopes to be able to extrapolate his findings to volcanoes, deducing the internal mechanics from exterior seismic and gravity measurements.

But geysers are fascinating in themselves, he said.

"One of our goals is to figure out why geysers exist - why don't you just get a hot spring - and what is it that controls how a geyser erupts, including weather and earthquakes," he said.

In this month's publication, Manga and his students report on El Jefe ("the chief"), a geyser located at an elevation of about 14,000 feet in the El Tatio geyser field in Chile, where water boils at 86 degrees Celsius (187 degrees Fahrenheit) instead of 100 (212 degrees F). In 2012, they recorded internal and external data during 3,600 eruptions over six days. They compared these to above-ground measurements at Lone Star and other geysers in Yellowstone. Invasive measurements are forbidden in the park.

They concluded that Bunsen was essentially correct - boiling starts at the top of the superheated water column and propagates downward - but also that it's the escaped bubbles from trapped steam in the rock conduits below the geyser that heat the water column to the boiling point. As the entire water column boils out of the ground, more than half the volume of stuff emerging is steam, though most of the mass is liquid water, they found. The plume seen from afar is mostly steam condensing into water droplets in the air, Manga said.

Preplay

In places like Yellowstone, the bubbles that slowly escape from the underground loop cause mini-eruptions called preplay leading up to the major eruption. Eruptions stop when the water column in the geyser cools below the boiling point, and the process repeats. All these underground processes seem to be affected only by the heat source deep below the geyser, because they could find no evidence that the surface temperature affected eruptions.

Manga plans to continue his Yellowstone and Chilean studies - his next trip to Yellowstone is in the fall - to gather more data to help explain the periods of geysers and better understand below-ground processes.

###

Co-authors with Manga and Munoz-Saez on the February paper are Shaul Hurwitz of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California; Maxwell Rudolph of Portland State University in Oregon; Atsuko Namiki of Hiroshima University in Japan; and professor emeritus Chi-Yuen Wang of UC Berkeley.

The September 2014 paper was co-authored by UC Berkeley undergraduates Esther Adelstein, Aaron Tran, Carolina Muñoz-Saez and researcher Alexander Shteinberg.

The work is supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR 1114184) and the CONICYT program to support Berkeley-Chile collaborations, which is administered by UC Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies.

Media Contact

Robert Sanders
rlsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998

 @UCBerkeleyNews

http://www.berkeley.edu 

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Manga Yellowstone bubbles eruptions geysers plumbing processes steam temperature video cameras water column

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New insights into the ancestors of all complex life
29.05.2017 | University of Bristol

nachricht A 3-D look at the 2015 El Niño
29.05.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New Method of Characterizing Graphene

Scientists have developed a new method of characterizing graphene’s properties without applying disruptive electrical contacts, allowing them to investigate both the resistance and quantum capacitance of graphene and other two-dimensional materials. Researchers from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the University of Basel’s Department of Physics reported their findings in the journal Physical Review Applied.

Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is transparent, harder than diamond and stronger than steel, yet flexible, and a significantly better...

Im Focus: Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier

The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

3D printer inks from the woods

30.05.2017 | Life Sciences

How circadian clocks communicate with each other

30.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Graphene and quantum dots put in motion a CMOS-integrated camera that can see the invisible

30.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>