Phenomena

The Intermittent Spring of Afton, WY

A rhymthic spring in full flow.

Yellowstone may get top billing, but Wyoming is home to more fluid dynamical wonders, like the world’s largest rhythmic spring. Located a little outside Afton, WY, Intermittent Spring — as the name indicates — runs for roughly 15 minutes, stops for the same length, then starts up again. The leading theory for this periodic flow depends on the siphon effect. Essentially, water runs continuously into a cavern underground, but to get to the surface, it must traverse a narrow tube with a high point that lies above the spring’s eventual exit. When the water level reaches that high point, it creates a siphon, sucking water out of the cavern and making the spring flow. But eventually the water level drops to the point where air rushes in, breaking off the flow until the water level recovers. That’s consistent with the spring’s behavior; it only runs in this intermittent fashion from late summer to fall, when groundwater levels are lower. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons; video credit: University of Wyoming Extension; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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