Strokkur Geyser in Iceland
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Chris, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Strokkur is one of the most famous geysers in Iceland.

What is a geyser and what causes them?

A geyser is a spring, a place where water flows to the surface of the Earth from underground, characterized by periodic discharges of water that blast out in a turbulent manner, usually along with steam.[1]

Most of them erupt because underground there is significant heat from volcanic activity. The magma heats the water, and when it boils and creates pressure, an eruption occurs.[1]

Geysers can change or even cease their function due to changes resulting from an earthquake, volcanic eruption, human activity, mineral deposits, etc.[1] For example, a geyser field that once existed in the US state of Nevada ceased to function once a geothermal power plant was built nearby.[2]

The conditions which create geysers are rare, and the ideal sites where they are found exist in only a few places on Earth,[1] the best of which are detailed below in no certain order - although indisputably, Yellowstone is #1.

A smaller numbers of them exist in various places around the world which are created by carbon dioxide buildup. These are known as cold water geysers.[3] All of those discussed below are the geothermal variety, heated by underground magma.

It was recently discovered that some geothermal geysers also involve carbon dioxide buildup, meaning some are a combination of these two methods.[15]

#1 - Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming, USA: Geyser capital of the world

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Castle Geyser is one of the famous geysers located in  Yellowston's famous Upper Geyeser Basin.

A geothermal wonderland, Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming has thousands of hot springs and about five hundred geysers, which is about half of all that are known upon Earth.[1][4] Yellowstone is the massive caldera of a supervolcano which will erupt again someday, and its massive magma chamber is what heats and fuels all the hot springs and geysers.[4]

The geysers are found in nine basins, the most famous of which is Upper Geyser Basin, which has most of the world’s most renowned geysers.[4][5]

Some notable geysers of Yellowstone:[4][5]

Steamboat Geyser is located in Norris Geyser Basin, and is the world’s tallest geyser, with eruptions in excess of 300 feet (90 meters) high. Years can go by between massive eruptions, and smaller eruptions happen much more frequently. The last big eruption occurred in August 2013, and it was the first in eight years.

All other geysers discussed here are located in Upper Geyser Basin:

Old Faithful Geyser is super predictable, erupting about every 91 minutes on average. Eruptions last 1.5 to 5 minutes, and water shoots over 100 feet (30 meters) high, with the record height for this one being 185 feet (56 meters). This is one of the top tourist attractions in a park with numerous super amazing features.

Beehive Geyser erupts every 10 to 20 hours, for five minutes at a time, with water often reaching a height of 200 feet (60 meters).

Castle Geyser erupts every 10 to 12 hours, typically for 20 minutes followed by 30 to 40 minutes of noisy steam venting. The water reaches about 90 feet (27 meters) high.

Grand Geyser erupts every 7 to 15 hours and is the tallest known predictable geyser, regularly reaching about 200 feet (90 meters) high. Eruptions last 9 to 12 minutes.

Giant Geyser has spectacular but unpredictable eruptions. Several days to several years can go by between eruptions, although when they occur they can last an hour and reach 250 feet (75 meters) high.

Giantess Geyser erupts only 2 to 6 times per year, although eruptions are spectacularly violent and typically 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 meters) high.

Daisy Geyser is one of the most predictable in the park, erupting every 2 to 4 hours. Eruptions last 3 to 5 minutes and reach about 75 feet (23 meters) high.

Riverside Geyser is another of the most predictable in the park, erupting every 5.5 to 7 hours for about 20 minutes, and reaching a height of about 75 feet (23 meters). The water creates an arch on the Firehole River and can cause superb rainbows to appear.

Video of Yellowstone's Old Faithful Geyser

#2 - Russia's Valley of Geysers

Valley of Geysers in Russia
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Robert Nunn, CC BY-SA 2.0.

This photo was taken in 2006, before the landslide event discussed below.[6]

Located on the Kamchatka Peninsula in eastern Russia, this location is second only to Yellowstone in Wyoming, USA in total number of geysers. The beautiful valley also features boiling hot springs, hot lakes, mud pots, mud volcanoes, and more. It is part of the Kronotskiy Nature Reserve.[6]

The area has approximately 90 of them, fed by the heat of a stratovolcano called Kikhpinych. At the foot of the mountain is the Valley of Death, so-called because poisonous gases emitted from the volcano kill any birds, mammals, or other animals that get too close. This volcano last erupted a few hundred years ago.[6][7]

The only real way to reach Valley of Geysers is by helicopter, as its location is very remote and difficult to reach. The area was not discovered until 1941, and not really explored until 1972. There are guided nature trails for visitors. At most, a few thousand tourists visit this area annually.[6][7]

In 2007 a massive landslide buried about two-thirds of the valley. Seven geysers were extinguished as a result, although many others survived. A lot of the permanent damage that was initially feared did not occur.[7]

Other features of the valley were destroyed in the landslide besides some of the geysers, and the area now has an entirely different appearance compared with before the 2007 event, including a different course for the Geyser River, which runs through the valley.[7]

#3 - Chile's El Tatio Geyser Field

El Tatio Geyser Field in Chile
Credit: Public domain.

El Tatio in Chile has many geysers that often don't reach more than a meter (about 3 feet) in height.[8]

The world’s third largest collection of geysers, after Yellowstone and Valley of Geysers, is located high in the Andes Mountains in northern Chile, at an elevation of 4,200 meters (13,800 feet).[8]

The extremely dry Atacama Desert is not far away to the west, and this area of high elevation is desert-like as well. Early in the morning is when they are best seen, when the steam billows in the cold morning air.[8]

The ones found here are not tall, with many reaching no higher than two to three feet (less than a meter) in height. Out of 80-something total geysers, the tallest recorded eruption ever has been 20 feet (6 meters).[8]

The area is popular with tourists who are also visiting the Atacama Desert and the nearby town of San Pedro de Atacama. When the government recently drew up plans for a geothermal plant, which would certainly have an effect on the popular geysers, Chileans were outraged and many opposed the idea. Fortunately, efforts to construct a geothermal plant were halted in 2009, although some leftover wreckage remains.[8]

Also near San Pedro de Atacama is Monturaqui Crater, which is considered the best meteorite crater in South America.[9]

#4 - Geysers of New Zealand's Taupo Volcanic Zone

Pohutu Geyser
Credit: Wikipedia photo by Carl Lindberg, CC BY 2.5.

This is Pohutu, one of the best geysers in New Zealand. It is located in the city of Rotorua.

On New Zealand’s North Island is an active volcanic area. Look at a map or aerial photo of this island, and you’ll see a large lake in the center. This is Lake Taupo, which sits in the caldera of one of earth’s huge supervolcanoes. To the northeast of the lake is Mount Tarawera, which famously erupted in 1886 and killed over 100 people.[10]

It’s unfortunate that some of the most spectacular geysers in the world have been destroyed by human activity (such as geothermal power plants and hydroelectric dams), although fortunately a few dozen remain, thrilling all who get to see them.[1][10]

The former largest geyser in the world was found here, called Waimangu Geyser, which ceased functioning after a landslide in 1904. In 1903 several tourists were killed, who got too close to one of the massive eruptions. The water used to shoot over 500 feet (150 meters), and sometimes as high as 1,500 feet (450 meters) in the air. This dwarfs anything found anywhere in the world at the present time.[11]

A couple of noteworthy geysers that currently exist are:

Lady Knox Geyser, in the Waiotapu area between Lake Taupo and Mount Tarawera, is induced to erupt daily at 10:15am by dropping in some soap. Each eruption typically reaches 20 meters (65 feet) in height, and can last over an hour. Some prisoners washing their clothes in the early 20th century discovered that adding soap makes it erupt.[10]

Pohutu Geyser, in the city of Rotorua, erupts up to twenty times daily. The water can reach 100 feet (30 meters).[10]

#5 - The geysers of Iceland

Great Geysir in Iceland
Credit: Wikimedia Commons photo by Megan McCormick, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Iceland's super famous Great Geysir, about to erupt.

Iceland, a large island in the northern Atlantic Ocean, is generally considered part of Europe even though it is closest to Greenland, which is part of North America. The Icelandic language is related to Germanic languages such as Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish.[13]

Iceland has a number of active volcanoes, and many volcanic features, including some of the world’s best geysers.[13] The word “geyser” comes from Iceland’s Geysir, which is the first geyser known to modern Europeans, known since the 13th century.[12]

Geysir is also called The Great Geysir. The word “geysir” means “to gush” in Icelandic. Located in the southwest of the island, it has had a wide variety of eruption times over the centuries it has been observed. More recently, it has been erupting three times per day. Eruptions commonly top 60 meters (200 feet) in height, and in the past they have exceeded 120 meters (390 feet).[12]

Another super famous Icelandic geyser is Strokkur (seen in the photo at the top of this article). The name is Icelandic for “churn.” It erupts every 4 to 8 minutes, and each eruption sends water about 15 to 20 meters (50 to 70 feet) into the air. It is one of the most frequent-to-erupt and reliable geysers in the world. As would be expected, it is very popular with tourists.[14]