Yellowstone's Old Faithful Geyser Shut Down by a Severe Thirteenth Century Drought

TitleYellowstone's Old Faithful Geyser Shut Down by a Severe Thirteenth Century Drought
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHurwitz, S, King, JC, Pederson, GT, Martin, JT, Damby, DE, Manga, M, Hungerford, JDG, Peek, S
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Date Published10/2020
Keywordsdrought, Medieval Climate Anomaly, mineralization, Old Faithful Geyser, radiocarbon, Yellowstone

To characterize eruption activity of the iconic Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park over past centuries, we obtained 41 new radiocarbon dates of mineralized wood preserved in the mound of silica that precipitated from erupted waters. Trees do not grow on active geyser mounds, implying that trees grew on the Old Faithful Geyser mound during a protracted period of eruption quiescence. Rooted stumps and root crowns located on higher parts of the mound are evidence that at the time of tree growth, the geyser mound closely resembled its current appearance. The range of calibrated radiocarbon dates (1233–1362 CE) is coincident with a series of severe multidecadal regional droughts toward the end of the Medieval Climate Anomaly, prior to the onset of the Little Ice Age. Climate models project increasingly severe droughts by mid-21st century, suggesting that geyser eruptions could become less frequent or completely cease.