New discovery may improve prediction of volcano eruptions

Feb 18, 2014 by Anna Malmberg

Volcanoes are among the most dangerous and least predictable natural forces on our planet. New findings may contribute to better volcano surveillance and eruption prognoses.

To understand the processes at work inside volcanoes, geologists survey cracks filled with magma, so-called dykes. These dykes are the main transport channels for magma through the Earth's crust, and they control the growth of the and the size of eruptions.

Understanding how dykes form and grow is crucial to research. A new study published in Nature Communications, led by researchers at Uppsala University, shows that the strength of the rock surrounding a magma chamber determines the size of its dykes.

During several months' field work in Iceland and on the Canary Islands, researchers measured the thickness of thousands of dykes. The results were analysed statistically, giving some surprising results.

"We were surprised that all our datasets showed the same statistical distribution. Neither the type of volcano, nor the type of dyke seemed to make any real difference. The Weibull distribution was always the best fit", says lead author Michael Krumbholz, researcher at the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University.

The Weibull distribution is well-known in materials science and is named after Waloddi Weibull who was active at Uppsala University. The Weibull distribution is known as the "weakest link theory" and predicts mathematically that a material will break first at its weakest point.

"The Weibull distribution's surprisingly good conformity with our measurements showed us the way", says Michael Krumbholz. "This means that the strength of the rock surrounding the magma chamber decides when and how new dykes form. The breaks the rock apart where it is the weakest."

The research group now hope to apply their findings in volcano surveillance and prediction of eruptions.

Explore further: Study finds existence of large, deep magma chamber below Kilauea volcano

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Land bulge clue to aviation threat from volcanoes

Jan 12, 2014

Bulging in land that occurs before a volcano erupts points to how much ash will be spewed into the sky, providing a useful early warning for aviation, geologists in Iceland said on Sunday.

3-D model reveals new information about iconic volcano

Oct 10, 2013

The volcano on the Scottish peninsula Ardnamurchan is a popular place for the study of rocks and structures in the core of a volcano. Geology students read about it in text books and geologists have been ...

Supervolcano triggers recreated in X-ray laboratory

Jan 06, 2014

Scientists have reproduced the conditions inside the magma chamber of a supervolcano to understand what it takes to trigger its explosion. These rare events represent the biggest natural catastrophes on Earth ...

Recommended for you

Underwater robot sheds new light on Antarctic sea ice

2 hours ago

The first detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice have been developed using an underwater robot. Scientists from the UK, USA and Australia say the new technology provides accurate ice thickness ...

Damage caused by geothermal probes is rare

3 hours ago

Soil settlements or upheavals and resulting cracks in monuments, floodings, or dried-up wells: Reports about damage caused by geothermal probes have made the population feel insecure. In fact, the probability ...

Extreme shrimp may hold clues to alien life

5 hours ago

(Phys.org) —At one of the world's deepest undersea hydrothermal vents, tiny shrimp are piled on top of each other, layer upon layer, crawling on rock chimneys that spew hot water. Bacteria, inside the shrimps' ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shitead
not rated yet Feb 18, 2014
"The magma breaks the rock apart where it is the weakest."

Well, duh!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.