Volcanic mountains

Could we really have a volcanic eruption in Australia?


Stretching across South East Australia is a “large” and young volcanic region that has the potential for future eruptions, according to a prominent volcanologist.
Volcanoes Scientist and Assistant Associate Professor at Monash University, Heather Handley, reported a study, which claims a small amount of magma, or melt, is trapped under the Newer Volcanic Province.

This geological area stretches from Mount Gambier in South Australia to Melbourne in Victoria.

Australia’s most recent volcanic area; the province of the most recent volcanoes in south-eastern Australia. (Jozua van Otterloo)

Dr Handley told 9News.com.au that the melt could come from previous activity or accumulate for future activity.

“(Scientists) have established that there may be a small amount of molten rock somewhere in the mantle lithopsy,” said Dr Handley, explaining that this small amount of magma could fuel a limited eruption.

“There are several ways for molten rock to rise to the surface.

“(But) it’s not enough to build these long-lived mountains that last for thousands of years.”

This fragment of <a class=volcanic rock could reveal crucial information about the new volcanic province, including how quickly it was spewed to the surface. “/>
This fragment of volcanic rock could reveal crucial information about the new volcanic province, including how quickly it was spewed to the surface. (Heather Handley)

The most recent eruptions in Australia

Three “geologically young” volcanoes have erupted in Australia over the past 10,000 years.

This period is the period in which volcanologists classify volcanoes as active with potential for future activity, Dr Handley explained.

Mount Gambier, South Australia
Mount Gambier is considered one of Australia’s youngest volcanoes. It last erupted around 5,000 years ago. (iStock)
Mount Schank is a sleeping volcano 100 meters high in the southeast corner of South Australia.
Mount Schank is a 100-meter-high volcano located in the southeast corner of South Australia. (Google Maps)

Two of them are in South Australia in the Newer Volcanic Province; Mont Schank and Mont Gambier.

The other is the Kinrara volcano in northeast Queensland.

What could an eruption look like in Australia

Dr Handley said it was almost impossible to predict the exact time and location of the next eruption.

“The younger parts of Australia don’t focus on an individual volcano, what we have is a very large potentially active region,” she said.

The biggest volcanic eruptions in the world

“The hard part is, we don’t know where the next eruption might be.

“It could be anywhere on the ground, from the data we have right now, we don’t see any pattern in space or time.”

The eruption of Cumbre Vieja on La Palma has been going on since September 19. (PA)

It all depends on whether the magma interacts with the groundwater.

“If the magma rises where it meets cold water, it could lead to explosive activity,” Dr Handley said.

“It’s like mixing hot cooking oil with cold water.

“You get an explosive reaction – and we have a lot of lime that is holding water.”

Dr Handley said it was unlikely that an eruption would hit a major city and send lava flowing through metropolitan streets, but could not “rule it out 100%”.

“The chances of that happening are very low – the scope is very wide,” she said.

“In the most recent volcanic province, we have had around 400 erupting volcanoes over the past million years.

“It just shows that the likelihood of an eruption occurring in a single human lifetime is very low.”