The study has detailed for the first time exactly how volcano experience stress – and it may have profound implications for guarding against future volcano collapses. Volcanologists consider such collapses to be the the worst-case scenario during volcanic eruption events. These can trigger deadly tsunamis and devastating pyroclastic flows – a recent example being 1980’s notorious Mount Saint Helens explosion.
Dr Sam Thiele, of Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment and the landmark study’s lead author, believes such eruptions can only prevented only by learning more about volcanoes.
Research on volcano growth helps us to understand these internal processes and the associated forces that could trigger a deadly collapse or eruption
Dr Sam Thiele
He said: ”These events are very difficult to predict because we often don’t know what is happening inside active volcanoes, and what forces might make them unstable.
“Research on volcano growth helps us to understand these internal processes and the associated forces that could trigger a deadly collapse or eruption.”
The research team used drones to create an extremely high-res map of the now-dormant volcano on La Palma’s internal structure.
Using this, they were able to measure the width of hundreds of thousands of cracks created from flowing magma during past eruptions.
This allowed the researchers to approximate the enormous forces occurring within the volcano.
The volcanologists were then able to demonstrate such power was capable of slowly building.
This energy was then found responsible for making the volcano “stressed” and disturbingly unstable.
After estimating the volcanic cracks’ width through which magma flowed, they were able to work out the forces involved – which could in theory help predict future volcanic eruptions.
The rocky features mapped by the study are formed when molten intrusions, known as dykes, solidify to form a framework.
These often lie inside an otherwise relatively weak structure mostly made-up of stratified lava and ash.
Professor Sandy Cruden, study co-author also the Monash University, said: “This is one of the first studies to look at the long-term effects of magma movement within a volcano.
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“We found that volcanoes gradually become ‘stressed’ by repeated movement of this magma, potentially destabilising the whole volcano, influencing future collapses and eruptions.”
The study’s publication coincides with news an African volcano is seeing lava rise at worrying levels.
Nyiragongo, a volcano sitting in-between Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, has its lava lake filling at a concerning speed.
A Goma Volcano Observatory team’s analysis estimates catastrophe could occur in just four years.
They also cautioned an earthquake could result in an apocalyptic explosion.
Dario Tedesco, volcanologist at Luigi Vanvitelli University of Campania said: “This is the most dangerous volcano in the world.”
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