There’s been a lot of depressing scientific speculation about the impact climate change will have on Earth this century. Now, in another bleak study, scientists say Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park’s beloved geyser, may cease to erupt in the next several decades thanks to Earth’s shifting climate. And while this won’t necessarily happen, having global warming snuff out a natural feature that literally represents reliability seems like it’d be a bad omen.

Old Faithful erupting


Earther reported on the study that the authors recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. In the study, the scientists aimed to determine just how reliable Old Faithful has been in the past.

In order to make this determination, the team radiocarbon dated ancient wood found near the geyser in the ’50s. The wood’s close proximity to the geyser signaled to scientists that trees must have once grown near it. That’s something trees are unable to do now thanks to Old Faithful’s constant expulsions of hot, alkaline water.

“When I submitted the samples for radiocarbon dating I didn’t know whether they would be hundreds or thousands of years old,” Shaul Hurwitz told Science Magazine. Hurwitz, a geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and lead author of the study, added that it was an ‘aha!’ moment when all of the specimens dated back to within a hundred-year period during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The reason this was an epiphany for Hurwitz is because that period coincided with a series of severe droughts. Ones that took place in the region over multiple decades. Hurwitz and his colleagues specifically note the petrified wood dates back to a period after the Medieval Climate Anomaly and before the so-called Little Ice Age.

Yellowstone National Park

Now, Hurwitz and his colleagues say the region in which Old Faithful blows is again under threat from droughts. The study says climate models “project increasingly severe droughts by mid‐21st century,” which could lead to Old Faithful’s eruptions becoming less frequent, or ceasing altogether. This would be the case because boiling water underground, heated by magma and kept liquified by intense pressures, is responsible for Old Faithful. (When the water becomes hot enough to vaporize, it triggers an eruption through the geyser’s vent.)

Unfortunately, other geologists who spoke with Science Magazine say the projections this study makes are reasonable. And losing this iconic geyser would be an extraordinary shame, of course. Because Old Faithful, which can rocket water up to 180 feet into the air every 90 or so minutes, never ceases to blow people away.

Featured Image: Yellowstone National Park