New insight into old eruptions
This photo, taken in 2005, shows a caldera on the Erta Ale volcano in East Africa. Calderas form after massive volcanic explosions.
February 1st, 2012
04:11 PM ET

New insight into old eruptions

We know the stories of disruptions and destruction caused by massive volcanic eruptions, but scientists are still learning how to predict such events. A study published in Nature details how scientists studied the 'Minoan' eruption on the island of Santorini around 1600 BC, in order to learn more about the changes that volcanoes undergo ahead of such eruptions.

The challenge with predicting the most powerful volcanic eruptions, known as caldera-forming eruptions, is that they happen so infrequently that there's simply not enough information to interpret a volcano's warning signs easily. Volcanologists - scientists dedicated to studying volcanoes - can monitor active volcanoes, but studying dormant ones to try and predict the next event requires forensics.

The scientists who studied the Minoan eruption looked at pumice rocks from the volcano using a technique called diffusion chronometry. They figured out that between 100 years and a few months before the Minoan eruption, the volcano's magma reservoir underwent some serious changes. More, hotter magma was added to the reservoir in spurts, as indicated by the chemistry of the pumice's crystal structure.

More immediately, the impending eruption was also heralded by increased seismic and volcanic activity in the region, which provided some warning to the area's residents.

For a detailed description of the study results and methodology, pay Nature a visit.

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Filed under: Discoveries • On Earth
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Kathryn (Kathy) (Bogala)

    Interesting article – great photography!

    February 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  2. Frank Lawson

    A major quake causer everyone forget about is from underground nuclear testing. You set off something that big under ground it would cause a large Ping if you willto hit the core. If being semi liquid the Ping would travle back and forth across the core until it weakened. However, during those travels the big Ping is causing smaller pings to be generated as they hit the wall and then reverberate towards the surface. What would happen if any of thse pings encountered structural instability during their travels? Could an earthquake occur? How long are the effects of the pings felt and have any significance? What about the effects of multiple Pings cuased by frequent test? Is this really the reason why underground testing was stopped?

    February 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  3. Marlee

    Scientists are predicting Mt. Cleveland in Alaska will erupt. The Earth puts out warning signs, we need to tune in. Studying the history of plate tectonics can give a good idea where activity may occur. When plates are swallowed underneath another, that new magma has to go somewhere. All very interesting to me. Fracking, drilling causing earthquakes is a good discussion, too. What can you do in the face of a major natural disaster? Grab your bug out bag, hold on tight and pray!

    February 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  4. charlie avila

    The ice from the glaciers and poles, acts as a strong glue holding and controlling the plate tectonics movements. The melting of the ice by the oil companies,(oil burning), will trigger, more stronger volcanic eruptions because earthquakes brake old closed fissures under volcanic mountains. We will be facing a possible volcanic eruption that will envolve all plate moving at the same time, due to the absence of the glaciers ice. The ice penetrates the plates rocks holding them and controlling tremors!!....

    February 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • William Penn

      In response to Charlie Avila....That is the biggest load of misinformation I have ever heard. Ice and snow and glaciers DO NOT act like a glue affecting plate motion and plate tectonics on this planet! It is rampant misperception and misinformation about the physical world, i.e. pseudo-science, that forms dangerous and ill-placed ideas about the problems and solutions our generation truly faces. PLEASE, DO NOT believe propaganda such as this, do your own research and discover the truth.

      February 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • MOCaseA

      Ummm... Penetrate that ground more than 5 meters (at the deepest) and the temperature is fairly constant (above freezing), with a gradual increase as you go deeper. In order to "glue the crust together" and resist continental shift you'd have to penetrate several kilometers of rock. The temperatures at those depths range from a couple hundred degree to several thousand degrees. Show my solid water (ice) at those temps and I'll show you the hand of God.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  5. sumday

    increased seismic activity- isn't that what's going on now as I seem to hear about an earthquake every week? I also wonder if the warming of the earth’s crust has any impact on earthquakes or volcanoes. My reasoning is if the crust is heated from the bottom and then the top gets warmer (through global warming) it would be logical that the crust being heated from both sides would "deform" more than if it was just heated from the bottom. Even a few degrees warmer can have big impacts over large areas, but that is just a theory of mine anyone want to weigh in on that?

    February 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • MOCaseA

      The reason you are hearing about more of them isn't because more are happening, but because the global media is getting much better about reporting them. Per the USGS, there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of earthquakes since they began recording them.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:30 am |

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