Saturday, February 12, 2011

Oregon's Geyser Geysing Again

...though maybe not for long. About a year ago, there was a report in The Oregonian that Old Perpetual, at Hunter's Hot Springs, just north of Lakeview, Oregon, had stopped erupting. For reasons unknown- though geothermal development and groundwater extraction were suspected- the geyser just stopped in June of 2009.

I first visited the geyser in spring of 1984, I think, on Harold Enlows' petrology class field trip to southeastern Oregon and northwestern Nevada. The geyser was not particularly large, with a plume reaching about 50-60 feet, but it erupted every minute and a half or so. The show was, as the geyser's name implies, pretty much perpetual. So it was with disappointment I read about the feature's apparent extinction.

A report in OregonLive today, however, says the geyser has started erupting again.
(for full-size image and area map, visit the OregonLive article linked above) However, the article warns of the potential for impending projects to negatively impact the geyser and surrounding thermal area. I have mixed feelings about this; I feel strongly about developing alternative energy sources, but it sounds as if this site is unique in a lot of ways. I was startled to read that it is one of the most carefully studied thermal sites in the Americas- though it's so easily accessible, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that much. But this is the first I had heard of its biological importance:
Even if the water level remains unchanged, heat loss from the re-injected water would "completely wipe out the natural organisms" in Hunter's Hot Springs' 20 geothermal pools and pots, said University of Oregon professor Richard Castenholz.

The 79-year-old professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology has studied the microorganisms there since 1965. He's penned 35 scientific papers on the life forms and discovered a phylum new to science and a waterborne microorganism that grows at the highest known temperature for photosynthesis anywhere on earth, he said.

Hunter's Hot Springs is "one of the classic hot springs of the world," he said, and "the most studied of all the hot springs in the Americas," excluding three geothermal springs in Yellowstone National Park.
Lakeview is remote (though it is on a major north-south route, US 395), out of the way, and unless you're looking for it, the resort and thermal area aren't hard to miss. But I doubt many people have even heard of this spot, let alone visited it. It really is special, and even after a dozen or more visits over the years, a spot I don't get tired of seeing again. If you're going to be in the OR-CA-NV borderlands, it's an especially delectable little morsel in a veritable smorgasbord of tasty geology. It's future is uncertain. I definitely recommend seeing it while you can.

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