Research team releases app for tracking Yellowstone geysers

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Brett Oppegaard, (360) 521-8150
Assistant Professor, School of Communications
Posted: Jan 20, 2015

NPS Geysers mobile app in use.
NPS Geysers mobile app in use.

When people throughout the world want to watch the iconic Old Faithful eruption at Yellowstone National Park in real time, they now can turn to their smartphones, through a free app, courtesy of a UH Mānoa-led research team studying mobile media and communication.

Brett Oppegaard, an assistant professor in the School of Communications within the College of Social Sciences, has led the development and production of the NPS Geysers mobile app as part of his ongoing investigations of ubiquitous computing. Working with National Park Service staff on site in Wyoming this summer, Oppegaard and the team of designers and developers started with the idea that time in this park was predicated on when Old Faithful erupted.

“People in Yellowstone don’t want to know if it’s noon or 1 p.m. Mountain Standard Time; they want to know how long it will be until Old Faithful erupts again,” Oppegaard said. “That shifting of a community to Old Faithful time is fascinating, and represented in many analog forms at the park, such as on white boards, and on hand-spun clocks. We wanted to start building our research project on the idea that Old Faithful time reflects a new way of looking at the world. And then we wanted to open that perspective up to people both inside and outside of the park, through the affordances of mobile technologies.”

The mobile app features a live web cam of the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes views of several of the park’s predictable geysers, including Old Faithful. It also instantly shares ranger predictions of when the next eruptions will happen at those geysers, including Grand, Castle, Great Fountain, Daisy and Riverside. With a notification sound, the app can alert users to when Old Faithful is within its eruption cycle window, which, at minimum, allows more efficient viewing of it either in person or online.

“At its best, the app allows users to become aligned with Old Faithful time,” Oppegaard said. “Even the person just sitting at a desk in some cubicle maze somewhere can be alerted that Old Faithful is about to erupt, turn on the mobile cam, and then join the real-time party of people around the globe enjoying this majesty of nature. These eruptions are fun to watch, and they bring people together.”

Yellowstone’s social media feeds from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube are included in the app as well, allowing easy access to the park’s most up-to-date news and media, including photos and videos. Future phases of the project will add interactivity and learning games to the app.

That mobile app, available for both Android and Apple platforms through their respective markets, is the first official and sanctioned National Park Service app available for America’s first national park. Yellowstone hosts about half of the world’s known geysers and has the largest concentration of active ones. Funding for the project – a partnership among Dr. Oppegaard, the National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park and Harpers Ferry Center – was provided by Canon USA Inc. through the Yellowstone Park Foundation.

Oppegaard was the individual recipient of the regional and national 2012 George and Helen Hartzog Award for his research into mobile app development and media delivery systems within the National Park Service as well as the national 2013 John Wesley Powell Prize winner for outstanding achievement in the field of historical displays. He also teaches communication and digital media classes stemming from his many years of experience working for daily newspapers, during which he earned several national, regional and state awards. He was chosen for a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as a journalist and also has earned National Endowment for the Humanities’ grants as a scholar for his innovative mobile media research projects.

To download the app:

For Android devices, visit

For Apple devices, visit:

The School of Communications  in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa offers academic programs in Communication and Journalism. Communication focuses on communication in intercultural and professional communities, information and communication technologies (ICTs) and policy, and the media arts. Journalism is professionally oriented and develops critical thinking skills and ability to gather, analyze, and organize information, and to communicate it clearly and responsibly through print, broadcast, and online media.

The College of Social Sciences (CSS) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa is engaged in a broad range of research endeavors that address fundamental questions about human behavior and the workings of local, national and international political, social, economic and cultural institutions. Its vibrant student-centered academic climate supports outstanding scholarship through internships, and active and service learning approaches to teaching that prepare students for the life-long pursuit of knowledge.