Research led by Gregory P. Waite, an assistant professor of geophysics at Michigan Technological University, has produced a new seismic model for figuring out what’s going on inside Mount St. Helens, North America’s most active volcano. Waite hopes his research into the causes of the earthquakes that accompany the eruption of a volcano will help scientists better assess the hazard of a violent explosion at Mount St. Helens and similar volcanoes.
Waite and co-authors Bernard A. Chouet and Phillip B. Dawson published their findings on February 19, 2008, in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Waite’s research was conducted during a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellowship with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Volcanoes don’t always erupt suddenly and violently. The most recent eruption of Mount St Helens, for example, began in October 2004 and is still going on. It’s what Waite and other volcanologists call a passive eruption, with thick and sticky lava squeezing slowly out of the ground like toothpaste from a tube.
When a volcano such as Mount St Helens erupts, it can cause a series of shallow, repetitive earthquakes at intervals so regular that they’ve been called “drumbeat earthquakes.” Until now, scientists generally believed that these earthquakes were caused by the jerky movements of a solid plug of molten rock traveling up from the volcano’s core, a process known as the stick-slip model.
Modeling of seismic data collected by Waite and colleagues dispute that explanation. “The regularity and similarity of the shallow earthquakes seem consistent with a stick-slip model,” said Waite. Broadband measurements indicated that the energy is concentrated in a short bandwidth—between .5 and 2 Hz—and the earthquakes have nearly identical wave forms. Interestingly, the first motions observed at all of the seismic stations were the same.
“But this is not typical of a stick-slip event,” Waite said. “Rather, it suggests a source with a net volume change, such as a resonating fluid-filled crack.”
The fluid in the crack most likely is steam, derived from the magma and combined with water vaporized by the heat of the molten rock. A continuous supply of heat and fluid keeps the crack pressurized and the “drumbeats” beating, Waite explained.
“The pressurized crack in our model is filled with steam that could conceivably drive a small explosive eruption if the pattern (of earthquakes) we observe is disturbed,” he noted. Mount St. Helens erupted violently in 1980, losing nearly 1,000 feet of its cone-shaped top.
“The cause of Mount St. Helens earthquakes during the 2004-2008 eruption has been a matter of great debate,” said Seth Moran, the principal USGS seismologist monitoring the current eruption. “Greg collected a fantastic dataset with temporary seismometers and used highly sophisticated modeling techniques to produce a robust and intriguing model for the process responsible for those earthquakes. His model is somewhat different from the hypothesis that many other Mount St. Helens researchers have been using,” the seismologist went on to say, “and we are adjusting our understanding of the mechanics underlying the current eruption to incorporate his results.”
Waite’s co-author, Chouet, who also works for the USGS, proposed a similar seismological model for volcanoes in Hawaii, where the lava is much more fluid and flows more easily. This is the first time the model has been applied to volcanoes like Mount St. Helens, with slow-flowing, sticky lava.
Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university, conducting research, developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering, forestry and environmental sciences, computer sciences, technology, business and economics, natural and physical sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.
Jennifer Donovan | EurekAlert!
Six-decade-old space mystery solved with shoebox-sized satellite called a CubeSat
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation
NSF-funded researchers find that ice sheet is dynamic and has repeatedly grown and shrunk
15.12.2017 | National Science Foundation
DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences
15.12.2017 | Life Sciences