Abstract

Several models have been proposed to explain periodic eruptions of geysers. In essence, the models all use two principally different types of geyser plumbing configurations, dealing with two different physical mechanisms. Here we present data on direct video observations of interior conduit systems for four erupting geysers in Geyser Valley, Kamchatka, Russia. The video footage reveals highly contorted water-filled conduits that periodically discharge voluminous parcels of steam bubbles during eruptions. These observations do not favor the models that use the most popular long vertical conduit type of plumbing, where eruptions are caused by sudden flashing of superheated water into steam. In contrast, our data fit the models using the less-explored type of plumbing, where pressurized steam gradually accumulates in an underground cavity (bubble trap) and periodically erupts through a water-filled, highly contorted conduit with the configuration of an inverted siphon. Hydrodynamic calculations show that such a plumbing configuration produces periodic eruptions when the volume of the bubble trap exceeds the volume of the conduit connecting it to the ground surface. Conduits of the studied geysers were developed from erosion by ascending geothermal water in landslide deposits; chaotic internal structures of the deposits facilitated the formation of conduit systems with highly contorted configurations of the bubble trap type. We suggest that geyser fields are rare on Earth because they require the combination of hydrothermal discharge and geological formations having specific mechanical properties and structures (that facilitate the generation of highly contorted conduits).

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