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Dynamics within geyser conduits, and sensitivity to environmental perturbations: Insights from a periodic geyser in the El Tatio geyser field, Atacama Desert, Chile

  • Author(s): Munoz-Saez, C
  • Manga, M
  • Hurwitz, S
  • Rudolph, ML
  • Namiki, A
  • Wang, CY
  • et al.

© 2015 Elsevier B.V. Despite more than 200. years of scientific study, the internal dynamics of geyser systems remain poorly characterized. As a consequence, there remain fundamental questions about what processes initiate and terminate eruptions, and where eruptions begin. Over a one-week period in October 2012, we collected down-hole measurements of pressure and temperature in the conduit of an exceptionally regular geyser (132. s/cycle) located in the Chilean desert. We identified four stages in the geyser cycle: (1) recharge of water into the conduit after an eruption, driven by the pressure difference between water in the conduit and in a deeper reservoir; (2) a pre-eruptive stage that follows the recharge and is dominated by addition of steam from below; (3) the eruption, which occurs by rapid boiling of a large mass of water at the top of the water column, and decompression that propagates boiling conditions downward; and (4) a relaxation stage during which pressure and temperature decrease until conditions preceding the recharge stage are restored. Eruptions are triggered by the episodic addition of steam coming from depth, suggesting that the dynamics of the eruptions are dominated by geometrical and thermodynamic complexities in the conduit and reservoir. Further evidence favoring the dominance of internal processes in controlling periodicity is also provided by the absence of responses of the geyser to environmental perturbations (air pressure, temperature and probably also Earth tides).

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