Iceland's Great Geysir forms a perfect turquoise bubble before it bursts violently into the air.
- The Great Geysir blowing its stack in April 2008. (Photo courtesy of James Levine, British Antarctic Survey)
Little known fact: All the geysers in the world draw their name from one mother geyser, called, simply enough, Geysir. This ancient squirter is located in the steaming valleys of Iceland's southern Haukadalur region and is said to be the first documented geyser; accounts dating from 1294 noted its presence when great earthquakes opened up a mess of hot springs.
The term itself originates from the Icelandic verb geysa, meaning "to gush," although in certain parts of New York it may also refer to a group of men doing something noteworthy. ("These geysa frickin' nuts!") And gushing is exactly what Geysir does, jamming jets of superheated water and steam into the frigid Icelandic air. The 60-foot-deep hole in the ground was spewing as recently as 2010, although there's word that it has entered a period of inactivity.
Before it erupts, Geysir sometimes assumes an interesting structure. You can see it in the above photo from James Levine of the British Antarctic Survey (where do BAS scientists go on vacation? The Arctic, apparently.) As the forces below surge upward, the water scrunches up into a wonderful bubble of the purest aquamarine. It's not a trait unique to Geysir. Some of Iceland's other hot springs and mudpots also blow their own bubbles. Look at the azure orb that nearby Strokkur ("churn") pops out around the 1 minute mark in this video:
Geysir's history is one of being poked and prodded by human irritants. It settled down into burbling quietude early in the twentieth century. But people didn't find that very interesting, so they dug a ditch around it and revived the geyser. When the moat failed to sustain the geothermal fountain for long, humans turned to their below-the-sink cabinets for assistance. If Wikipedia can be trusted:
In 1981 the ditch was cleared again and eruptions could be stimulated, on special occasions, by the addition of soap. Following environmental concerns the practice of adding soap was seldom employed during the 1990s. During that time Geysir seldom erupted.
Why seldom? The folklore is that tourists nonplussed by the geyser's infrequent eruptions took to throwing stones down its mouth. These stones eventually clogged up the plumbing. However, the large earthquake that hit Iceland in 2000 had things running smoothly again, until they didn't. Perhaps visitors armed with enough soap and boulders can revive Geysir to its previous feistiness, throwing up clots of whitewater 180 feet in the sky.
Miss the freaky photos of Nevada's Fly Geyser? Bask in their weirdness here.