New research published in Geophysical Journal International warns that there may be a volcano lurking under west-central Germany. While the last volcanic eruption in this region occurred 13,000 years ago with a force equivalent to the size of the epic 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption, new GPS monitoring data has detected subtle movements in the Earth’s surface that could be a result of a rising subsurface mantle plume. Scientists are now re-evaluating the long thought-to-be sleeping seismic activity in the Eifel region, which sits between the German cities of Aachen, Trier, and Koblenz.
The volcanic history of the region is visible, with circular lakes called maars dotting the landscape, the largest of which is Laacher See. Yet, as lead author Professor Corné Kreemer comments: "Most scientists had assumed that volcanic activity in the Eifel was a thing of the past. But connecting the dots, it seems clear that something is brewing underneath the heart of northwest Europe."
The research analyzed GPS data from western Europe to monitor how the region’s surface is shifting upward and outward. "The Eifel area is the only region in the study where the ground motion appeared significantly greater than expected," adds Professor Kreemer. "The results indicate that a rising plume could explain the observed patterns and rate of ground movement."
This finding suggests that the region may be an active volcanic system, implying that the populations of people who live in the region may be at elevated risk were an eruption to occur. Yet, that doesn’t mean everyone should up and move, say the researchers.
"This does not mean that an explosion or earthquake is imminent, or even possible again in this area. We and other scientists plan to continue monitoring the area using a variety of geophysical and geochemical techniques, in order to better understand and quantify any potential risks."