Two new studies into the “plumbing systems” that lie under volcanoes could bring scientists closer to predicting large eruptions.
International teams of researchers, led by the Univ. of Leeds, studied the location and behavior of magma chambers on the Earth's mid-ocean ridge system - a vast chain of volcanoes along which the Earth forms new crust.
They worked in Afar (Ethiopia) and Iceland - the only places where mid-ocean ridges appear above sea level. Volcanic ridges (or "spreading centers") occur when tectonic plates "rift" or pull apart. Magma (hot molten rock) injects itself into weaknesses in the brittle upper crust, erupting as lava and forming new crust upon cooling.
Magma chambers work like plumbing systems, channeling pressurized magma through networks of underground "pipes".
The studies, published in Nature Geoscience, reveal new information about where magma is stored and how it moves through the geological plumbing network. Finding out where magma chambers lie and how they behave can help identify early warning signs of impending eruptions.
Scientists used images taken by the European Space Agency satellite Envisat to measure how the ground moved before, during and after eruptions. Using this data, they built and tested computer models to find out how rifting occurs.