Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 71: Sep-Oct 1990

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Wyoming: is old faithful a strange attractor?

"Eruptions of Old Faithful Geyser are generally perceived as extremely regular events, with variation of eruptive interval being attributed to random noise. The governing equations for such a hydrothermal system are highly non-linear, therefore it is reasonable to assume that such systems are capable of operating in regines that display chaotic behavior. Three-dimensional state-space reconstruction of eruption time data provides strong evidence of a strange attractor quite similar to the Rossler attractor. Establishing the system as chaotic indicates that while one can predict eruptive intervals in the short term, long term predictions regarding Old Faithful's eruptive behavior are impossible, no matter how carefully and accurately the system is modeled. The mean eruptive interval of Old Faithful has changed over time. This is consistent with the behavior of a chaotic system, which by definition must be nonstationary in the mean. Seismic activity is believed to be a perturbation shifting Old Faithful into a new chaotic state with a different shape to the strange attractor. A simple non-linear dynamic model of geyser behavior is proposed that leads to chaotic behavior and is consistent with the observations of eruption interval data for Old Faithful." (Nicholl, Michael, et al; "Is Old Faithful a Strange Attractor?" Eos, 71:466, 1990.)

Comment. "Strange attractor" is a specialized term employed in chaos analysis. So, Old Faithful is not really faithful; neither are the planets in their orbits (see under Astronomy). Is there nothing left in Nature that is reliable -- just about everything is non-linear and therefore a candidate for chaotic behavior.

Reference. An entire setion on geyser phenomena may be found in GHG in our catalog: Earthquakes, Tides. To order, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #71, SEP-OCT 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987