While the geyser is highly predictable – it has eruptedevery 44 to 125 minutes since 2000 – a new climate assessment and a recent study have revealed that rising temperatures, reduced snowfall and increased rain threaten to shut Old Faithful off completely by the end of the century.
While that could threaten the natural beauty of the park, it also means an ecosystem three times the size of Rhode Island, stretching 22m acres across Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, face a threat that no national park can protect against: rising temperatures.
The land in and around Yellowstone, often called the Greater Yellowstone Area, is among the world’slast intact temperate ecosystems, and includes two national parks, five national forests, half a dozen tribal nations and stunning biodiversity. It’s also a super volcano that’s home to 10,000 hydrothermal features, including 500 geysers, the world’s greatest concentration.
If temperatures at Yellowstone rise10F (5.6C) by the end of the century, as they are projected to, this vast ecosystem will be disrupted. Old Faithful will almost surely shut off completely, and the snowpack that feeds rivers throughout the west may disappear.
While the story of climate change is well-known, what’s new is the startling connection between temperature and water, a shift which threatens the extensive geyser system that makes this place so iconic.
But it is not the first time this has happened. About 800 years ago, extreme heat and drought made Old Faithful come to a complete standstill for decades, a shift which changed everything from what plant species grew in the area to what the land looked like.
I swear I didn’t write this post to show a picture of myself at Yellowstone in 2017. But hey, Castle Geyser was going when I was there, not to mention Old Faithful with its thousands of tourists arriving each hour. And it was a fun trip. Sure is great that it could go away soon!