Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Volcanic 'plumbing systems' exposed: Step closer to predicting large eruptions with study of mid-ocean ridge magma chambers

Date:
March 30, 2012
Source:
University of Leeds
Summary:
Two new studies into the "plumbing systems" that lie under volcanoes could bring scientists closer to predicting large eruptions. International teams of researchers studied the location and behavior of magma chambers on Earth's mid-ocean ridge system -- a vast chain of volcanoes along which Earth forms new crust.

Erta Ale lava lake at the Afar rift.
Credit: James Hammond

Two new studies into the "plumbing systems" that lie under volcanoes could bring scientists closer to predicting large eruptions.

International teams of researchers, led by the University of Leeds, studied the location and behaviour of magma chambers on Earth's mid-ocean ridge system -- a vast chain of volcanoes along which Earth forms new crust.

They worked in Afar (Ethiopia) and Iceland -- the only places where mid-ocean ridges appear above sea level. Volcanic ridges (or "spreading centres") occur when tectonic plates "rift" or pull apart. Magma (hot molten rock) injects itself into weaknesses in the brittle upper crust, erupting as lava and forming new crust upon cooling.

Magma chambers work like plumbing systems, channelling pressurised magma through networks of underground "pipes."

The studies, published in Nature Geoscience, reveal new information about where magma is stored and how it moves through the geological plumbing network. Finding out where magma chambers lie and how they behave can help identify early warning signs of impending eruptions.

Scientists used images taken by the European Space Agency satellite Envisat to measure how the ground moved before, during and after eruptions. Using this data, they built and tested computer models to find out how rifting occurs.

Data in one study showed magma chambers that fed an eruption in November 2008 in the Afar rift of Northern Ethiopia were only about 1 km below the ground. The standard model had predicted a depth of more than 3 km.

It is highly unusual for magma chambers to lie in shallow depths on slow spreading centres such as the Afar rift, where tectonic plates pull apart at about the same speed as human fingernails grow.

Dr Carolina Pagli from the University of Leeds' School of Earth and Environment, who led the study, says: "It was a complete surprise to see that a magma chamber could exist so close to the Earth's surface in an area where the tectonic plates move apart so slowly. The results have changed the way we think about volcanoes."

Dr Pagli also noticed that the ground started "uplifting" (elevating) four months before the eruption, due to new magma increasing pressure in one of the underground chambers. Understanding these precursory signals is fundamental to predicting eruptions.

A wider study of eruptions in Afar and Iceland, two vastly different environments, found remarkable similarities. Many events occurred within a short space of time. Researchers identified multiple magma chambers positioned horizontally and vertically, allowing magma to shoot in several directions. Moving magma triggered earthquakes, and separate magma chambers fed single eruptions.

The 2008 eruption is part of an unusual period of recent volcanic unrest in Ethiopia, and is enabling scientists to learn more about volcanoes at spreading centres. Most spreading centres are under 2 km of water at the bottom of the ocean, making detailed observations extremely challenging. The new knowledge derived from Ethiopian volcanoes will help scientists understand volcanoes in Iceland, where eruptions can have a bigger impact on the UK.

Dr Tim Wright from the School of Earth and Environment, who leads the international Afar Rift Consortium, said: "The dramatic events we have been witnessing in Afar in the past six years are transforming our understanding of how the crust grows when tectonic plates pull apart. Our work in one of the hottest place on Earth is having a direct impact on our understanding of eruptions from the frozen volcanoes of Iceland."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leeds. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Tim J. Wright, Freysteinn Sigmundsson, Carolina Pagli, Manahloh Belachew, Ian J. Hamling, Bryndís Brandsdóttir, Derek Keir, Rikke Pedersen, Atalay Ayele, Cindy Ebinger, Páll Einarsson, Elias Lewi, Eric Calais. Geophysical constraints on the dynamics of spreading centres from rifting episodes on land. Nature Geoscience, 2012; 5 (4): 242 DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1428
  2. Carolina Pagli, Tim J. Wright, Cynthia J. Ebinger, Sang-Ho Yun, Johnson R. Cann, Talfan Barnie, Atalay Ayele. Shallow axial magma chamber at the slow-spreading Erta Ale Ridge. Nature Geoscience, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1414

Cite This Page:

University of Leeds. "Volcanic 'plumbing systems' exposed: Step closer to predicting large eruptions with study of mid-ocean ridge magma chambers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120330111023.htm>.
University of Leeds. (2012, March 30). Volcanic 'plumbing systems' exposed: Step closer to predicting large eruptions with study of mid-ocean ridge magma chambers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120330111023.htm
University of Leeds. "Volcanic 'plumbing systems' exposed: Step closer to predicting large eruptions with study of mid-ocean ridge magma chambers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120330111023.htm (accessed September 18, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Isolated N. Korea Asks For International Help With Volcano

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) — Mount Paektu volcano in North Korea is showing signs of life and there's not much known about it. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Volcanic Plumbing Provides Clues on Eruptions and Earthquakes

Apr. 12, 2012 — Two new studies into the "plumbing systems" that lie under volcanoes could bring scientists closer to understanding plate ruptures and predicting eruptions -- both of which are important ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins