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Geyser Decline and Extinction in New Zealand—Energy Development Impacts and Implications for Environmental Management

Abstract

Geysers are rare natural phenomena that represent increasingly important recreation, economic, and scientific resources. The features of geyser basins, including hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles, are easily damaged by human development. In New Zealand, the extinction of more than 100 geysers provides important lessons for the environmental management of the world’s remaining geyser basins. The impacts on New Zealand’s geysers are described in sequential “phases,” including the following: the first use of geothermal resources by the indigenous people—the Maori; early European-style tourism and spa development; streamside geyser decline caused by river level modification at the Spa geyser basin; multiple geyser basin extinctions caused by industrial-scale geothermal well withdrawal at Wairakei; the drowning of geysers at Orakeikorako after the filling of a hydroelectric reservoir; and geyser decline caused by geothermal well heating systems in Rotorua City. The crisis in Rotorua prompted preservation of the few remaining geysers at Whakarewarewa—the last major geyser basin in New Zealand. The New Zealand government ordered the geothermal wells within 1.5 km of Pohutu Geyser, Whakarewarewa, to be closed, which was a locally controversial measure. The well closure program resulted in a partial recovery of the Rotorua geothermal reservoir, but no extinct geysers recovered. The implications of recent geothermal computer modeling and future planning are discussed. The New Zealand case suggests that the protection of geysers requires strong regulations that prevent incompatible development at the outset, a prescription that is especially relevant for the future management of the geothermal fields adjacent to the geyser basins of Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A.

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Acknowledgments

The research was generously supported by the School of Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and by a sabbatical leave granted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I would like to thank the editor and the reviewers of the manuscript. I would like to extend a special thanks to Ronald F. Keam and Edwards F. Lloyd, both geothermal experts in New Zealand, for suggesting valuable and detailed improvements to the manuscript. E. F. Lloyd also provided historic photographs of extinct geysers (Fig. 3).

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Correspondence to Kenneth A. Barrick.

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Barrick, K.A. Geyser Decline and Extinction in New Zealand—Energy Development Impacts and Implications for Environmental Management. Environmental Management 39, 783–805 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-005-0195-1

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Keywords

  • Geyser
  • Hot spring
  • Fumarole
  • New Zealand
  • Geothermal energy
  • Yellowstone National Park