What's With the Name?

You probably don't have to stretch your imagination to figure out how geothermal features like hot springs and mud pools get their names. The origin of the word "geyser," on the other hand, is a bit more mysterious. The word "geyser" actually relates back to the first geyser ever discovered, Iceland's Geysir. Geysir, discovered in 1294, is fittingly named after the Icelandic verb "to gush" (gjósa) [source: Geysir Center].

Exploring the World's Most Famous Geysers

While every geyser operates in fundamentally the same way, all geysers are not created equal. In this section, we'll explore some of the world's most famous geysers and what makes them stand out above the rest.

  • Geysir: This geyser, located in Iceland's Haukadalur valley, was first discovered in 1294, making the Geysir the oldest known geyser on the planet. Geysir's activity slowed toward the end of the 19th century and it became dormant around 1915. In 1935, however, an earthquake reactivated the geyser, which currently erupts about every eight to 10 hours. Geysir remains a major tourist attraction to this day [source: Geysir Center].
  • Old Faithful: Probably the most famous geyser on Earth, Old Faithful is famous for its 100- to 180-foot (30 to 55 meter) high eruptions, as well as for the regularity with which these eruptions occur (hence the name). The geyser takes about 45 to 110 minutes between eruptions, though more recently, its eruptions have tended to be larger and consequently farther apart as more water is needed to replenish the geyser [source: National Park Service]. Old Faithful is also a great example of a cone geyser. Unlike fountain geysers, which erupt from a pool of water, cone geysers erupt from a cone shaped structure formed from the mineral-rich water that constantly shoots from its opening [source: National Park Service].
  • Grand Geyser: The tallest regularly erupting geyser on Earth, Grand Geyser routinely fires water up to 200 feet (61 meters) into the air. Located in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Geyser is a great example of a fountain geyser. Unlike cone geysers, which tend to produce a fairly vertical, constant column of water, fountain geysers erupt in a much more chaotic fashion [source: National Park Service].
  • Strokkur Geyser: This geyser, named after the Icelandic verb "to churn," is known for its frequent eruptions, which occur five to 10 minutes apart. First active in 1789, Strokkur became inactive in 1896 after an earthquake hit the area and blocked its plumbing system. In 1963, locals cleared the blockage and the geyser has remained active ever since [source: Geysir Center].
  • Steamboat Geyser: Don't bother waiting for one of Steamboat's massive eruptions. While Steamboat is considered to be the world's tallest active geyser, shooting water up to 300 feet (91 meters) in the air, the geyser is also notoriously finicky. At one point, the geyser went 50 years without an eruption.
  • Waimangu Geyser: The highest geyser eruption of all time took place at New Zealand's Waimangu Valley. In 1902, a geyser in the valley reportedly spouted water 1,475 feet (450 meters) in the air. Unfortunately, the geyser became inactive after a landslide in 1904, putting a premature end to a truly spectacular sight [source: Geyser Grazing Society].