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SHAKE AND BLOW
Autopsy of a eruption: Linking crystal growth to volcano seismicity
by Staff Writers
Bristol, UK (SPX) May 30, 2012


File image: Mount St. Helens.

A forensic approach that links changes deep below a volcano to signals at the surface is described by scientists from the University of Bristol in a paper published in Science. The research could ultimately help to predict future volcanic eruptions with greater accuracy.

Using forensic-style chemical analysis, Dr Kate Saunders and colleagues directly linked seismic observations of the deadly 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption to crystal growth within the magma chamber, the large underground pool of liquid rock beneath the volcano.

Over 500 million people live close to volcanoes which may erupt with little or no clear warning, causing widespread devastation, disruption to aviation and even global effects on climate. Many of the world's volcanoes are monitored for changes such as increases in seismicity or ground deformation.

However, an on-going problem for volcanologists is directly linking observations at the surface to processes occurring underground.

Dr Saunders and colleagues studied zoned crystals, which grow concentrically like tree rings within the magma body. Individual zones have subtly different chemical compositions, reflecting the changes in physical conditions within the magma chamber and thus giving an indication of volcanic processes and the timescales over which they occur.

Chemical analysis of the crystals revealed evidence of pulses of magma into a growing chamber within the volcano. Peaks in crystal growth were found to correlate with increased seismicity and gas emissions in the months prior to the eruption.

Dr Saunders said: "Such a correlation between crystal growth and volcanic seismicity has been long anticipated, but to see such clear evidence of this relationship is remarkable."

This forensic approach can be applied to other active volcanoes to shed new light upon the nature and timescale of pre-eruptive activity. This will help scientists to evaluate monitoring signals at restless volcanoes and improve forecasting of future eruptions.

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Related Links
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The early April earthquake of magnitude 8.6 that shook Sumatra was a grim reminder of the devastating earthquakes and tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people in 2004 and 2005. Now a new study, funded by the National Science Foundation, shows that the residents of that region are at risk from yet another potentially deadly natural phenomenon - major volcanic eruptions. Researc ... read more


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