Yellowstone's "Old Faithful Geyser" Faces Climate-Induced Shutdown

Yellowstone's "Old Faithful" Shutdown

Recent climate assessments suggest that temperature rise could impact the Greater Yellowstone Area in new ways. The area contains the world-famous national park and is well known for its geysers that draw millions of visitors each year. Old Faithful, the park's most notable and reliable geyser, has erupted every 125 minutes or less since 2000. Researchers fear climate events, including rising temperatures, reduced snowfall, and increased rain threaten Old Faithful and could result in its complete shutdown by the end of the century.

As the Guardian reports, this would not be the first time the geyser has stopped, as droughts 800 years ago once paused its eruptions. The difference is that the current looming pause will undoubtedly be caused by climate change. Scientists predict without fast and dramatic interventions, the average global temperature could rise by as much as 10 degrees by the end of the century. Such temperatures could result in droughts more extreme than the area has seen before, disrupting the geyser system and causing severe disruptions to the area's ecosystems as rivers and water sources dry up completely.

Why This Matters

A changing climate's impact on "Old Faithful” is about much more than the spectacle of the geyser. The Greater Yellowstone Area is among one of the largest swaths of undisturbed nature remaining in the US and is home to rich biodiversity. Scientists speculate that droughts in the region would have a devastating domino effect on its ecosystem. Hot weather often brings parasitic insects that can destroy forests, leaving what remains as tinder to fuel potentially massive wildfires. And withering plant species as a result of extreme heat means the region would struggle to support its native animal species -- namely bison-- which rely on the area's vegetation.

The Yellowstone area serves as a warning for those living far beyond its boundaries, as the report found the average temperature of the park has already increased by 1.2 C degrees since 1950. The Express called this increase "dangerously close" to the IPCC's f 1.5 C limit.

Our Last Hope

Despite these grave warnings, researchers working on the assessment expressed hope that the worst impacts of climate change can still be averted if we act big and act now. Chris Schiller, who studied previous droughts that plagued Yellowstone, told the Guardian we are "facing a critical moment," particularly in regard to the park, and our response now will determine the area's future. Cathy Whitlock, Schiller's research partner, added that we can still "flatten the curve of climate change," but "what we do in the next decade is critical. We have new technologies, we can solve this. We just need the will to do it."

PBS: 2021 could be one of the driest years in a millennium, and there's no relief in sight, May 28, 2021.