Geoscientists discover magma volumes of supervolcanic proportions
Geoscientists from Heidelberg University have discovered accumulations of magma in the Andes sufficient to have set off a super-eruption but which, in fact, did not. Such eruptions, which expel enormous quantities of magma, are the largest volcanic events on earth.
Source: Landsat 8, U.S. Geological Survey
The Chao volcano in northern Chile with a lava coulée approx. 14.5 km long (centre of picture). The composition of the lava matches that of deposits of adjacent supervolcanic calderas. Chao erupted about 75,000 years ago, but zircon crystals in the lava were already forming in a subterranean magma reservoir for nearly three million years.
Together with colleagues from the USA, researchers from the Institute of Earth Sciences discovered that magma volumes of supervolcanic proportions have been continuously accumulating in the Altiplano-Puna region since the last super-eruption nearly 2.9 million years ago.
These magmas, however, did not reach the surface to trigger a catastrophic eruption but instead slowly cooled at depth and hardened into plutonic rock. The results of the research were published in the journal “Geology”.
"A supervolcanic eruption spews out more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of magma, which accumulated over time in reservoirs close the earth's surface," explains Prof. Dr Axel Schmitt of the Institute of Earth Sciences. "In turn, these reservoirs are fed from deeper layers in the earth's crust and the underlying mantle. During an eruption, the overlying rock layers collapse into the empty magma chamber and form depressions, known as calderas, of up to 100 kilometres in diameter."
Axel Schmitt indicates that there have been at least seven super-eruptions in the Altiplano-Puna region within the last ten million years, the most recent one about 2.9 million years ago. What remains unclear is why no further major eruptions have occurred since then and whether the region can now be considered inactive for such events.
Using samples from five comparatively small lava domes in northern Chile and southeast Bolivia, the Heidelberg researchers and their American colleagues investigated the most recent eruptions whose chemical composition matches the supervolcanic magmas from the region. They determined the age of very small zircon crystals from these lava flows with the aid of a high-spatial-resolution mass spectrometer.
"The mineral zircon forms almost exclusively in magmas, so its age revealss when those magmas were present under the volcano," explains Axel Schmitt. "The astonishing result was that the ages of the zircons measured from all five of the smaller volcanoes extended continuously from the time of the eruption 75,000 years ago back to the last supervolcanic eruption.”
Prof. Schmitt reports that model calculations demonstrated that zircon formation is only possible over such protracted durations if the inflow of magma amounted to approx. one cubic kilometre over 1,000 years, which is unusually high for a relatively small volcano. "This means that over a long period of time a magma volume of supervolcanic proportions must have accumulated under the five lava domes, which then solidified into plutonic rock at depth."
The volcanologist explains that the lack of a major volcanic eruption does not necessarily indicate that magmatic activity has come to a complete halt. Perhaps the rise in magma from deeper regions merely slowed during the last 2.9 million years, forming an enormous body of rock known as a pluton.
"However, our results also show that a relatively small increase in the long-term magma recharge from about one to five cubic kilometres in 1,000 years would recreate conditions favouring a catastrophic supervolcanic eruption. A new super-eruption in the Altiplano-Puna region would be possible, but only after a long lead time," explains Prof. Schmitt.
Researchers from Oregon State University and the University of California in Los Angeles also contributed to the research.
C. R. Tierney, A. Schmitt, O. M. Lovera, S. L. de Silva: Voluminous plutonism during volcanic quiescence revealed by thermochemical modeling of zircon. Geology (August 2016), doi: 10.1130/G37968.1
Prof. Dr. Axel Schmitt
Institute of Earth Sciences
Phone +49 6221 54-4825
Communications and Marketing
Phone +49 6221 54-2311
Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation
29.03.2017 | University of Hawaii at Manoa
Researchers discover dust plays prominent role in nutrients of mountain forest ecoystems
29.03.2017 | University of Wyoming
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences