Photographer's Note

Picture of Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa, New Zealand.

Geyser are environments that sustain a remarkably diverse range of life. The range of colors visible in the picture reflects different algal populations growing around the Pohutu Geyser hot spring in New Zealand.

This spectacular geyser known as Pohutu is found in the Whakarewarewa thermal reserve in Rotorua. It erupts throughout the day, bubbling up from below the ground and shooting up to 30 metres high, displaying the awesome powers of nature.

The north central region of New Zealand’s North Island is an area of active volcanism. In addition to three active volcanoes, there are geysers, like the Lady Knox Geyser, mud pools, and hot springs.

New Zealand is located within the Ring of Fire, a region encircling the Pacific Ocean where the movement of tectonic plates (huge segments of Earth’s crust) leads to volcanic and seismic activity. The Pacific and Indo-Australian tectonic plates meet at New Zealand, but their movements are significantly different under the two main islands. At the South Island the plates converge in a mostly lateral, or sideways, movement. This created the Southern Alps by uplifting and folding oceanic sediment. At the North Island, however, the Pacific plate is folding under the other plate. This subduction has forced volcanic activity to the surface. Scientific evidence shows that the North Island has had a number of huge volcanic eruptions over the last 30,000 years. Two huge eruptions 26,000 years ago and nearly 1,000 years ago created the deep crater that is now Lake Taupo; the latter eruption is considered to be one of the largest in history. Volcanic activity continues today in the island’s central region. Geysers and hot springs (signs of geothermal activity) are also found throughout the region, and earthquakes are frequent but generally moderate.

A geyser is a type of hot spring that erupts periodically, ejecting a column of hot water and steam into the air. The name geyser comes from Geysir, the name of the best-known geyser in Iceland. Today, there are about 513 active geyser in the world according to World Geyser Counts.

Extremophile organism able to survive in extreme environments are found in geyser water. Extremophile are a core research element for astrobiologists. Such organisms include biota able to survive kilometers below the ocean's surface near hydrothermal vents and microbes that thrive in highly acidic environments. Characterization of these organisms —their environments and their evolutionary pathways— is considered a crucial component to understanding how life might evolve elsewhere in the universe.

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Additional Photos by Michel Detay (mdetay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 487 W: 1 N: 1045] (4929)
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