Ballooning magma creates odd-shaped volcano

January 02, 2013

Ballooning magma creates odd-shaped volcano

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have used 20 years of satellite data to reveal a geological oddity unlike any seen on Earth.

According to a report, geologists have found a giant magma bubble that appears to look like a sombrero. Magma bubbles are pockets of air that form in the magma of a volcano; they are usually small in size. This bubble is not only unique for its shape, but it also happens to be one of the largest magma bubbles ever found on earth and the potential to unearth many new geologic findings.

The sombrero-shaped magma bubble was found in the Altiplano-Puna plateau in the Andes Mountains. It comes as no surprise that the Altiplano-Puna plateau is considered one of the most geologically active places on earth. On the plateau, the sombrero-shaped magma bubble is located at the center of a geologic uplift. A valley surround the uplift, which is being pushed upwards by the magma bubble.

“It’s a subtle motion, pushing up little by little every day, but it’s this persistence that makes this uplift unusual,” said Yuri Fialko, a professor of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps. “Most other magmatic systems that we know about show episodes of inflation and deflation.”

Another unique aspect of the magma bubble is its constant growth. At an enormous 62 miles across, the magma bubble has not stopped growing yet. Every year, the valley surrounding the magma seems to sink lower and lower. This causes the magma bubble to continue to rise and get larger year after year. This has puzzled the scientists involved in the finding as the end to the grow spurt of the magma bubble does not seem to be in the foreseeable future. This contradicts the growth pattern of most previously discovered magma bubbles.

Fialtko  was surprised by the unusual growth pattern of this magma bubble. “It’s a subtle motion, pushing up little by little every day, but it’s this persistence that makes this uplift unusual,” he said. “Most other magmatic systems that we know about show episodes of inflation and deflation.”

“Satellite data and computer models allowed us to make the important link between what’s observed at the surface and what’s happening with the magma body at depth,” Fialko added.

Some may think the magma bubble’s size may mean disaster in the near future. To date, the magma bubble has shown some violent activity that resulted in shaking in the area around the site. This coupled with its size suggests the magma could be dangerous. The geologists involved, however, do not believe the bubble will burst anytime soon, making it safe for the time being and allowing them to continue their studies.

As unique as this magma bubble is, it is no surprise that scientists may be able to use it other important geological data. Not only that, but the magma may also be studied to contribute to historical studies. For example, researchers believe that studying the constantly growing magma bubble could help explain how super-volcanoes take shape. Whatever its future use, it clear that the sombrero-shaped magma bubble will contribute to the field of geology in a unique way.


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