Irish scientists are leading the way in ground-breaking new research that could predict future volcano explosions.
Researchers from Trinity College Dublin say they have discovered a method that could explain past devastating eruptions and help us to better prepare for future ones.
Amazingly, the brains behind the breakthrough claim that the volcanoes are telling their own stories – because their secrets are locked inside magma crystals.
Research Fellow in Geology at Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, Dr Teresa Ubide, explained why it’s vital that her team have become volcano whisperers to learn more.
She revealed: “We need to understand how they work to be better prepared for volcanic eruptions, such as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland, which collapsed air traffic across Europe and caused huge economic, political and cultural problems for huge numbers of people.”
While the majority of the average 50-60 volcanic explosions every year are harmless, the Trinity study could help us understand what’s happening deep beneath the surface.
A report by the group, published today in the prestigious Chemical said Geology journal, said that when volcanic cones and lava are visible above ground, they are being fed by magma from far below.
And it’s believed that fresh magma in these deep reservoirs triggers volcanic eruptions.
Like tree rings, magmatic crystals typically grow from the centre outwards – providing experts with plenty of information about the volcano’s history.
The scientists are using funding from the Science Foundation Ireland to develop the removal of the thin film from the surface of the crystals using a laser beam, similar to technology used in eye surgery.
This produces a group of particles that can be analysed so boffins can see the exact pattern of growth zones of the crystal.
Dr Ubide said: “Just as investigators reconstruct events to learn the truth, we prise magma injections from the crystals that are transported to the surface by erupted magmas to do the same thing.
“This method helps us form a detailed picture of the magma history.”
The ground-breaking paper includes results for crystals from magmas relating to the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean, where the separation of tectonic plates made the crust thinner and weaker – allowing magma to erupt to the surface.
That magmatic system developed 79 million years ago in northeast Spain, where the holiday hotspot of Costa Brava is now.
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