New research has yielded results that could potentially lead to the development of volcanic eruption warning systems. Previously, lava from “hotspot” volcanoes was thought to be virgin lava, coming from tens of kilometers deep in the mantle. This is not the case, explains Dr Teresa Ubide, a volcanologist at the University of Queensland.
“It’s not quite the case – we’ve been misled, geologically deceived. For decades, we’ve viewed hotspot volcanoes as messengers of the Earth’s mantle, providing us with a glimpse into what’s going on deep beneath our feet.
“But these volcanoes are extremely complex inside and filter a very different melt to the surface than we expected. This is due to the volcano’s complex plumbing system which forces many of the magma minerals to crystallize.
Instead, it looks like the minerals in the magma are recycled to make the lava appear pristine. This has important implications, said Dr Ubide.
“We found that hotspot volcanoes filter their melts to become highly eruptable at the base of the earth’s crust, located several kilometers below the volcano.”
“Close monitoring of volcanoes can indicate when magma is reaching the base of the crust, where this filtering process reaches the ‘tipping point’ that leads to the eruption.”
“Our results support the idea that the detection of magma at the crust-mantle boundary could indicate an upcoming eruption. This new information brings us one step closer to improving monitoring of volcanic unrest, which aims to protect lives, infrastructure and crops. “
Hotspot volcanoes are part of the creation of some beautiful landscapes, like the Hawaiian Islands. Dr Ubide noted that hot spot volcanoes are also found in Australia.
“The people of South East Queensland are very familiar with the Glass House Mountains or the Great Tweed Shield Volcano, which includes Wollumbin (Mount Warning) in New South Wales,” said Dr Ubide.
“Hotspot volcanoes can arise ‘anywhere’, unlike most other volcanoes that occur due to tectonic plate crushing, such as the Ring of Fire volcanoes in Japan or Nova Scotia. Zealand, or tectonic plates that move away from each other, creating for example the Atlantic Ocean.
“The volcanoes in South East Queensland hotspots were active millions of years ago. They have produced enormous volumes of magma and are excellent laboratories for exploring the roots of volcanism.
“There are even dormant volcanoes in South Australia, which could erupt with little warning, which would benefit from better geological markers for early detection.”
Through Zach fitzner, Terre.com Editor-in-chief