AskDefine | Define geyser

Dictionary Definition

geyser n : a spring that discharges hot water and steam v : to overflow like a geyser

User Contributed Dictionary



From around 1755-1765, from the proper name Geysir, which is the name of a hot spring in Iceland (Geysir’s English Wikipedia article). The name literally means “gusher”, derived from the verb geysa meaning “to gush”.




  1. A boiling spring which throws forth at frequent intervals jets of water, mud, etc., driven up by the expansive power of steam.
  2. In the context of "British|archaic": An instantaneous, and often dangerous, hot water heater.
    • 1902: William Paton Buchan, Plumbing: A Text-book to the Practice of the Art Or Craft of the Plumber - Where a Geyser or hot-water heater is used it is a good and wise precaution to see that the bath-room, &c., when it is used is well ventilated.
    • 1998: Gordon S Riess, Confessions of a Corporate Centurion: Tales of International Adventures - Water was heated either on the gas stove, or on a wall mounted gas-fired "geyser" heater.
    • 2002: Alaine Polcz, One woman in the war: Hungary, 1944-1945 - It was here I saw a geyser gas water heater in a bathroom for the first time. (I was afraid of it).


Extensive Definition

A geyser is a hot spring characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accomplished by a vapor phase. The name geyser comes from Geysir, the name of an erupting spring at Haukadalur, Iceland; that name, in turn, comes from the Icelandic verb gjósa, “to gush”.
The formation of geysers requires a favourable hydrogeology which exists in only a few places on Earth, and so they are fairly rare phenomena. There must be a volcanic heat source. Generally all geyser field sites are located near active volcanic areas. The surface water works its way down to an average depth of around where it meets up with the hot rocks. About 1,000 exist worldwide, with about half of these in Yellowstone National Park, U.S. A geyser's eruptive activity may change or cease due to ongoing mineral deposition within the geyser plumbing, exchange of functions with nearby hot springs, earthquake influences, and human intervention.
Erupting fountains of liquefied nitrogen have been observed on Neptune's moon Triton, as have possible signs of carbon dioxide eruptions from Mars' south polar ice cap. These phenomena are also often referred to as geysers. Instead of being driven by geothermal energy, they seem to rely on solar heating aided by a kind of solid-state greenhouse effect. On Triton, the nitrogen may erupt to heights of .

Formation and working

Geysers are temporary geological features. The life span of a geyser is, at the most, only a few thousand years. Geysers are generally associated with volcanic areas. Geysers are caused when underground chambers of water are heated to the boiling point by the volcanic rock. When heat causes the water to boil, pressure forces a superheated column of steam and water to the surface. Their formation specifically requires the combination of 3 geologic conditions that are usually found in volcanic terrain.
  • A plumbing system- In order for the heated water to form a geyser a plumbing system is required. This includes a reservoir to hold the water while it is being heated. Geysers are generally aligned along faults, the cracks in the earth formed by earthquakes.
The intense transient forces inside erupting geysers are the main reason for their rarity. There are many volcanic areas in the world that have hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles, but very few with geysers. This is because in most places, even where other necessary conditions for geyser activity exist, the rock structure is loose, and eruptions will erode the channels and rapidly destroy any nascent geysers.
Most geysers form in places where there is volcanic rhyolite rock which dissolves in hot water and forms mineral deposits called siliceous sinter, or geyserite, along the inside of the plumbing systems. Over time these deposits cement the rock together tightly, strengthening the channel walls and enabling the geyser to persist; as mentioned in the previous section.
In the 1960s, when the research of biology of geysers first appeared, scientists were generally convinced that no life can survive above around —the upper limit for the survival of cyanobacteria, as the structure of key cellular proteins and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) would be destroyed. The optimal temperature for thermophilic bacteria was placed even lower, around . Thermophiles prefer temperatures from to whilst hyperthermophiles grow better at temperatures as high as to . As they have heat-stable enzymes that retain their activity even at high temperatures, they have been used as a source of thermostable tools, that are important in medicine and biotechnology, for example in manufacturing antibiotics, plastics, detergents (by the use of heat-stable enzymes lipases, pullulanases and proteases), and fermentation products (for example ethanol is produced). The fact that such bacteria exist also stretches our imagination about life on other celestial bodies, both inside and outside of solar system. Among these, the first discovered and the most important for biotechnology is Thermus aquaticus.

Major geyser fields and their distribution

Geysers are quite rare, requiring a combination of water, heat, and fortuitous plumbing. The combination exists in few places on Earth.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the largest geyser locale, containing thousands of hot springs, and approximately 300 to 500 geysers. It is home to half of the world's total number of geysers in its nine geyser basins. It is located in Wyoming, United States. Yellowstone includes the tallest active geyser (Steamboat Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin), as well as the renowned Old Faithful Geyser, Beehive Geyser, Giantess Geyser, Lion Geyser, Plume Geyser, Aurum Geyser, Castle Geyser, Sawmill Geyser, Grand Geyser, Oblong Geyser, Giant Geyser, Daisy Geyser, Grotto Geyser, Fan & Mortar Geysers, & Riverside Geyser, all in the Upper Geyser Basin which alone contains nearly 180 geysers. It was then reported that a thermal lake was forming above the valley. Few days later, waters were observed to have receded somewhat, exposing some of the submerged features. Velikan Geyser, one of the field's largest, was not buried in the slide and has recently been observed to be active.

El Tatio

The name "El Tatio" roughly translates as "the grandfather". El Tatio is located in the high valleys on the Andes surrounded by many active Volcanoes in Chile, South America at around 4,200 meters above mean sea level. The valley is home to approximately 80 geysers at present. It became the largest geyser field in the Southern Hemisphere after the destruction of many of the New Zealand geysers, and is the third largest geyser field in the world. The salient feature of these geysers is that the height of their eruptions is very low, tallest being only six meters high. The average geyser eruption height at El Tatio is about

Taupo Volcanic Zone

The Taupo Volcanic Zone is located on the North Island in New Zealand. It is long by wide and lies over a subduction zone in the earth's crust. Mount Ruapehu marks its southwestern end, while the submarine Whakatane volcano (85 kilometres beyond White Island) is considered its northeastern limit. Many geysers in this zone were destroyed due to Geothermal developments and a hydroelectric reservoir, but several dozen geysers still exist. In the beginning of the twentieth century, the largest geyser ever known, the Waimangu Geyser existed in this zone. It began erupting in 1900 and erupted periodically for four years until a landslide changed the local water table. Eruptions of Waimangu would typically reach and some superbursts are known to have reached .


Iceland is an island country off the western coast of Europe in the Atlantic Ocean. Geysers and hot springs are distributed all over the island. The geyser, or the local name geysir are located in Haukadalur. Geysers are known to have existed in at least a dozen other areas on the island. The "Great Geysir", which first erupted in the 14th century, gave rise to the word "geyser". It used to erupt every 60 minutes until the early 1900s when it became dormant. Earthquakes in June 2000 subsequently reawakened the giant and it now erupts approximately every 8 to 10 hours and may reach up to .

Extinct/Dormant geyser fields

There used to be two large geysers fields in NevadaBeowawe and Steamboat Springs—but they were destroyed by the installation of nearby geothermal power plants. At the plants, geothermal drilling reduced the available heat and lowered the local water table to the point that geyser activity could no longer be sustained. Two thirds of the geysers at Orakei Korako were flooded by the Ohakuri hydroelectric dam in 1961. The Wairakei field was lost to a geothermal power plant in 1958. The Taupo Spa field was lost when the Waikato River level was deliberately altered in the 1950s. The Rotomahana field was destroyed by the Mount Tarawera eruption in 1886.

Misnamed geysers

There are various other types of geysers which are different in nature compared to the normal steam-driven geysers. These geysers not only differ in their style of eruption but also in the cause that makes them erupt. Such geysers are not true geysers but are yet referred as one as they all emit water under pressure. In a number of places where there is geothermal activity, wells have been drilled and fitted with impermeable casements that allow them to erupt like geysers. Even though the vents of such geysers are artificial, it is tapped into a natural hydrothermal system. Though these are so-called artificial geysers, technically known as erupting geothermal wells, are not true geysers. Little Old Faithful Geyser, in Calistoga, California, is probably an example of it. The geyser erupts from the casing of the a well drilled in the late 1800s. According to Dr. John Rinehart in his book A Guide to Geyser Gazing (1976 p.49), a man had drilled into the geyser in search for water. He had actually "simply opened up a dead geyser". Cold-water geysers' eruption is similar to their hot water counterparts, except that CO2 bubbles drive the eruption instead of steam. In cold-water geysers, CO2-laden water lies in a confined aquifer, in which water and CO2 are trapped by less permeable overlying strata. This water and CO2 can escape this strata only weak regions like faults, joints, or drilled wells. A drilled borehole provides an escape for the pressurized water and CO2 to reach the surface. The magnitude and frequency of such eruptions depend on various factors such as plumbing depth, CO2 concentrations, aquifer yield etc. The column of water exerts enough pressure on the gaseous CO2 so that it remains in the water in small bubbles. When the pressure decreases due to formation of a fissure, the CO2 bubbles expand. This expansion dispaces the water and causes the eruption.The appearance of cold-water geysers may be quite similar to their steam-driven counterparts; however, often CO2-laden water is more white and frothy. The best known of these is probably Crystal Geyser, near Green River, Utah.. There are also two cold-water geysers in Germany: Brubbel and Geysir Andernach.
A perpetual spouter is a natural hot spring that spouts water constantly without stopping for recharge. Some of these are incorrectly called geysers, but because they are not periodic in nature they are not considered true geysers.

Commercial uses of geysers

Geysers are used for various activities such as electricity generation, heating and tourism. Many geothermal reserves are found all around the world. Geysers in Iceland are one of the most commercially viable geyser location in the world. Since 1920's hot water directed from the geysers have been used to heat greenhouses and used to grow food that could not have been cultivated in Iceland's inhospitable climate. Steam and hot water from the geysers has also been used for heating homes since 1943 in Iceland. In 1979 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) actively promoted development of geothermal energy in the Geysers-Calistoga Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA) through a variety of research programs and the Geothermal Loan Guarantee Program and was thus obligated by law to assess its potential environmental impacts.

Nitrogen geysers on Triton

One of the great surprises of the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 was the discovery of geysers on its moon, Triton. Astronomers noticed dark plumes rising to some 8 km above the surface,and depositing material up to 150 km downstream., All the geysers observed were located between 50° and 57°S, the part of Triton's surface close to the subsolar point. This indicates that solar heating, although very weak at Triton's great distance from the Sun, probably plays a crucial role. It is thought that the surface of Triton probably consists of a semi-transparent layer of frozen nitrogen white in colour, which creates a kind of greenhouse effect, heating the frozen material beneath it until it breaks the surface in an eruption. A temperature increase of just 4 K above the ambient surface temperature of 37 K could drive eruptions to the heights observed. But more likely these eruptions are caused by tidal forces.
Geothermal energy may also be important. Unusually for a major satellite, Triton orbits Neptune in a retrograde orbit—that is, in the opposite direction to Neptune's rotation. This generates tidal forces which are causing Triton's orbit to decay, so that in several billion years time it will reach its Roche limit with Neptune. The tidal forces may also generate heat inside Triton, in the same way as Jupiter's gravity generates tidal forces on Io which drive its extreme volcanic activity.
Each eruption of a Triton geyser may last up to a year, and during this time about of material may be deposited downwind. Voyager's images of Triton's southern hemisphere show many streaks of dark material laid down by geyser activity.



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geyser in Catalan: Guèiser
geyser in Czech: Gejzír
geyser in Danish: Gejser
geyser in German: Geysir
geyser in Estonian: Geiser
geyser in Modern Greek (1453-): Θερμοπίδακας
geyser in Spanish: Géiser
geyser in Esperanto: Gejsero
geyser in Basque: Geiser
geyser in French: Geyser
geyser in Galician: Geyser
geyser in Hindi: उष्णोत्स
geyser in Indonesian: Geyser
geyser in Italian: Geyser
geyser in Hebrew: גייזר
geyser in Georgian: გეიზერი
geyser in Latvian: Geizers
geyser in Lithuanian: Geizeris
geyser in Hungarian: Gejzír
geyser in Dutch: Geiser (bron)
geyser in Japanese: 間欠泉
geyser in Norwegian: Geysir (geologi)
geyser in Occitan (post 1500): Gueisèr
geyser in Polish: Gejzer
geyser in Portuguese: Géiser
geyser in Russian: Гейзер
geyser in Slovak: Gejzír
geyser in Slovenian: Gejzir
geyser in Serbian: Гејзир
geyser in Finnish: Geysir
geyser in Swedish: Gejser
geyser in Turkish: Kaynaç
geyser in Ukrainian: Гейзер
geyser in Chinese: 間歇泉

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Old Faithful, boiling water, flush, font, fount, fountain, gush, hot spring, hot water, jet, rush, spew, spit, spout, spouter, spray, spritz, spurt, spurtle, squirt, steam, thermae, vapor
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