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
NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system
21.07.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Scientists shed light on carbon's descent into the deep Earth
19.07.2017 | European Synchrotron Radiation Facility
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...
The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....
A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...
Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision
Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
12.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy