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Supervolcano Phenomenon Revealed

Jan 6 2014, 2:29am CST | by , in News | Other Stuff

Supervolcano Eruptions Studied by Scientists
Image Credit: ESRF
 
 

Scientists have studied the special phenomenon of supervolcanos and found that they could recreate the conditions in artificial lab settings. There are future disasters lying in wait for an unaware humanity in the form of supervolcanos. And the more prepared we are, the better we can handle them.

Supervolcanos are a mighty hazard just waiting to happen. Yellowstone National Park for example is a supervolcano deep down inside. The experts have reproduced supervolcanic activity by building a small chamber which heats up matter to the level of sweltering magma. There was a a huge explosion many years ago in prehistoric Wyoming. It left behind a large crater. The dangers of such an eruption occurring now are greater since the world is populated by billions of human beings. 


A team of researchers headed by ETH-Zurich professor Carmen Sanchez-Valle has now identified a trigger for supereruptions by determining the density of supervolcanic magma, using an X-ray beam at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. Scientists acknowledge the fact that the mass disaster that supervolanos bring in their wake cannot be averted even by the most imaginative thinking. Rather it requires an extremely novel type of creativity that only supergeniuses such as Einstein possessed.

What can be done is to use better predictive methods so as to be able to evacuate the area in the nick of time. While supervolcanos do not erupt everyday, when they do it is pure hell they unleash on their surroundings. A device has been invented by the scientists to measure the affects of supervolcanos. Called a magma chamber it creates the very situation that is found in a supervolcano with accuracy and precision. 

One possible mechanism was thought to be the overpressure in the magma chamber generated through density differences between the less dense molten magma and the comparatively more dense rock in the surroundings. "The effect is comparable to the buoyancy of a football filled with air underwater, which is forced upwards by the denser water around it," says Wim Malfait, first author of the study, until recently at ETH Zurich and now a researcher at the Swiss Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa).

Extremes of pressure and temperature are built up in its center. "The results reveal that if the magma chamber is big enough, the overpressure caused by differences in density alone are sufficient to penetrate the crust above and initiate an eruption," says Sanchez-Valle.

What the experts have found is that a supervolcano can be compared to a football that is underwater and comes up on its own momentum. Melt buoyancy is the word used to describe the phenomenon. And with further understanding of the enigma maybe the unpredictability of supervolcanos could be tamed in some future time. 

Source: ESRF, Nature

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