False colour image of zoned orthopyroxene crystal used in forensic-style analysis of Mount St Helens 1980 eruption.

Volcano monitoring on the next level

Volcanoes are being monitored for quite some time now.

Deformational changes and seismicity can be recorded with decent accuracy. However, the link to volcanic activity has been unclear the entire time. But recent research might shed light on this matter. Let’s take a quick tour under some volcanoes.

Down below

When we look into the earth below volcanoes, we find that most are fed by chambers filled with magma (which often are fed further from below). But these chambers are surround by colder solid material. This basically leads to cooling of the chamber and therefore, prograding solidification of magma. Now the really interesting part is that magma is made up of a bunch of different materials, which solidify at different temperatures. This leads to a differentiation during the solidification process.

New research has taken this process to a new subject of interest. They studied zoned crystals, which means crystals that concentrically differentiated in this solidification process. Imagine these crystals like tree rings, where every ring is a slight change in chemical composition (like the colors in the picture below).
Of course this does not limit to just cooling of a magma chamber. If there is new material flowing into that chamber the crystals “tree rings” will display this information.

Volcano monitoring

Why is this interesting for volcano monitoring, you say?

Remember the missing link? Yes, if we can analyze zoned crystals which are erupted from volcanoes and read them like a timeline of “magma chamber activity”. We can correlate this to seismic activity and deformational changes.

So finally, it might be possible to tell from the seismic tremor, that the magma chamber is building up, or inflating, or even that a volcano is about to erupt.

Read more on ScienceDaily:
[Image: False colour image of zoned orthopyroxene crystal used in forensic-style analysis of Mount St Helens 1980 eruption. (Credit: Kate Saunders) from ScienceDaily]

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... is a geophysicist by heart. He works at the intersection of machine learning and geoscience. He is the founder of The Way of the Geophysicist and a deep learning enthusiast. Writing mostly about computational geoscience and interesting bits and pieces relevant to post-grad life.

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