APR 19, 2021 1:27 PM PDT

Let's talk magma: how small is too small to detect?

New research published recently in Geology reports on the discovery of shallow pools of magma lying just beneath the Earth’s crust that are too small to be seen with traditional volcano measuring equipment. The study contemplates the disparities between samples of a quenched magma that had formed smooth volcanic glass, and samples of rocks from an eruption from that same volcano, Krafla, in 1724.

"When we looked at the compositions from 1724, we found an almost perfect match for what was sampled during the drilling," says lead author Shane Rooyakkers from GNS Science in New Zealand. "That suggests that actually, this magma body has been there since 1724 and has previously been involved in an eruption at Krafla. So that raises the question of, 'Why did geophysics not pick it up?'"

According to Rooyakkers, the seismic imaging typically used to detect magma didn’t detect these magma pools because they are too small. "In traditional approaches to volcano monitoring, a lot of emphasis is placed on knowing where magma is and which magma bodies are active," says Rooyakkers. "Krafla is one of the most intensely monitored and instrumented volcanoes in the world. They've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it in terms of geophysics. And yet we still didn't know there was this rhyolitic magma body sitting at just two kilometers' depth that's capable of producing a hazardous eruption."

Rooyakkers explains that small hidden magma chambers pose a threat because they are not accounted for in seismic monitoring plans. An example of how this translates into a real-world scare comes from the Krafla volcano itself, which is known to contain basalt magma, a kind that typically causes passive eruptions (not so dangerous). But the discovery of a rhyolite magma chamber in the volcano could mean more violent eruptions.

"So, the concern, in this case, would be that you have a shallow rhyolitic magma that you don't know about, so it hasn't been considered in hazards planning," Rooyakkers adds. "If it's hit by new magma moving up, you might have a much more explosive eruption than you were anticipating."

This finding has the potential to change the way volcanologists consider magma and seismic monitoring. As we continue to learn more about small magma chambers, there is hope that new technology will be developed to provide more accurate imaging techniques and limit risks for communities living near volcanos.

Sources: Geology, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JAN 26, 2021
Earth & The Environment
For the soil, for us all!
JAN 26, 2021
For the soil, for us all!
A recent report released from The Microbiology Society features soil health as one of the most urgent areas of concern. ...
FEB 07, 2021
Space & Astronomy
NASA Promotes the Development of Hybrid Aircraft
FEB 07, 2021
NASA Promotes the Development of Hybrid Aircraft
Air travel is thought to be a significant contributor to emissions that lead to climate change. NASA is now launching an ...
FEB 18, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Searching for life in the lakes under Antarctica's ice
FEB 18, 2021
Searching for life in the lakes under Antarctica's ice
New research suggests that the lakes underneath Antarctica’s thick ice could be home to more microbial life than t ...
MAR 12, 2021
Earth & The Environment
New role of the asthenosphere discovered underneath the Caribbean
MAR 12, 2021
New role of the asthenosphere discovered underneath the Caribbean
New research from the University of Houston reevaluates the role of the asthenosphere in tectonic plate movement. Accord ...
APR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
APR 09, 2021
Speedbumps Reduce Endangered Red Colobus Deaths
The endangered Zanzibar red colobus is a rare primate that lives only in the Zanzibar archipelago. New research from Ban ...
MAY 10, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Flooding hotspots on the rise in the Third Pole
MAY 10, 2021
Flooding hotspots on the rise in the Third Pole
Increased flooding is predicted to occur in the Himalaya and Pamir regions of the world, known as the Third Pole, due to ...
Loading Comments...