Study Takes the Pulse of a Sleeping Supervolcano

Written by Valentin Troll

Under the volcanoes in the Andes where Chile, Argentina and Bolivia meet, there is a gigantic reservoir of molten magma. For several million years, it has been there without fully solidifying or causing a supervolcanic eruption.

Geologists have long wondered how this is possible. Researchers from Uppsala University, among others, have now discovered that the secret may be hidden tributaries of hot magma from inside the Earth.

This model shows how iron- and magnesium-rich magma (green) is formed at great depth and can move along the outer edges of the large Altiplano-Puna magma body (APMB)(red) to gradually force its way up to the surface during a volcanic eruption. Eruptions with such lava are uncommon and provide a unique insight into the processes that take place deep inside the Earth under the Andes.

Credit: Osvaldo Gonzalez MaurelThe study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Huge volcanic eruptions from so-called supervolcanoes are very unusual, but when they happen they are extremely devastating. It’s incredibly important for volcanologists to clarify what keeps this sleeping giant alive and what can cause it to awaken,” says Valentin Troll, Professor of Petrology at the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University.

The giant so-called Altiplano-Puna magma body is estimated to contain 500,000 cubic kilometers of molten and semimolten magma. In order to provide a picture of how much volume is involved, it can be said that the entire island of Gran Canaria would fit inside – more than ten times over. The last really large volcanic eruption here occurred 4 million years ago and was the last in a series of very large explosive eruptions that began 10 million years ago. Some of them can be classified as supervolcanic eruptions.

In order to look for answers as to how the magma could stay molten for millions of years, the researchers studied lavas that were ejected from the magma reservoir during smaller volcanic eruptions after the last major eruption. The chemical composition of such material can provide an indication of how a magma reservoir works, how far down from inside the Earth the material originates, how long it remained in the reservoir and what different processes the magma underwent before it was ejected by the volcano.

In this case, the researchers wants to find out if new magma forces its way into the reservoir and therefore needed to find material that, after forming in the Earth’s mantle, was not affected by interaction with the magma that was already in the reservoir.

The llamas of the Andes’ high plateau are unaware of the enormous amount of magma below their hooves
Credit: Osvaldo González-Maurel“This was a demanding task. Under these particular volcanoes in the Central Andes is the Earth’s thickest crust, 70 kilometers thick, which means that the magma is given many chances to change and react with the material it comes into contact with when it forces its way up to the surface,” says Frances Deegan, a researcher at Uppsala University.

The researchers therefore searched several years for lava that was as “original” as possible. Finally, they found what they were looking for. They have now analyzed the composition of the oxygen isotopes in their samples to find out how lavas were formed and where they originate from. The results showed that the lavas came from deep within the Earth and that they represent the material that feeds the volcanoes of the Central Andes, keeping them alive.

This new knowledge is important to understanding how large, complex volcanoes work.
“Supervolcanic eruptions can cause gigantic disasters. The last one that happened on the Earth was Toba’s super eruption in Indonesia 73,000 years ago and it is considered to have almost led to the extinction of mankind. Even if we can’t prevent a super eruption from happening, it would be smart to use the time until the next eruption to learn as much as possible to increase the chances for our communities to survive such an event,” says Valentin Troll.

Contacts and sources:
Valentin Troll, professor at Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Uppsala University
Publication: Constraining the sub-arc, parental magma composition for the giant Altiplano-Puna Volcanic Complex, northern Chile. Osvaldo González-Maurel, Frances M. Deegan, Petrus le Roux, Chris Harris, Valentin R. Troll, Benigno Godoy. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-63454-1
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Comments (19)

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi Those of You Who Believe Geothermal Activity Influences Weather,

    I almost missed this article by Valentin Troll which is already on PSI page 2. Why am I, as I compose this comment, the first to write a comment?

    And I looked at the references from past PSI articles which John O’Sullivan places at the end of the present related articles. What a GREAT JOB John is and has been doing. And what a lousy job some readers, like myself, sometimes do. As I seldom explore the past articles that John calls to our attentions.

    Have a good day, Jerry .

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi PSI Readers,

    Do you know where and what Uppsala University.is? I didn’t so I looked. And what I found was that it is a Swedish University. And it has a New Chair who seeks to protect freedom of research.

    And that this new Chair, Anne Ramberg, stated: “The times we live in, with anti-intellectual people in power, fake news and ‘alternative facts’, make it essential for education and research to be evidence-based while, of course, they must be open to objective questioning and critical debate. Knowledge is something that always stays with us, and a key defence against populism.”

    EVIDENCE-BASED

    Have a good day, Jerry

    • Avatar

      geran

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      You have to be careful, Jerry. They can all sound good. All these institutions are only about “caring about us”. Just ask them. Have you ever heard of an institution admitting it was corrupt? That’s not how they operate. When the UEA-CRU emails were made public, was any of the fraud and deceit properly dealt with? NO! They investigated themselves and found no wrong-doing!

      They would claim that the investigation was EVIDENCE-BASED. Just ask them….

    • Avatar

      jerry krause

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      Hi Geran,

      I did not know the definition of ‘populism’, so I looked it up:

      Pupulism: a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.

      Geran, you just illustrated pupulism’s definition.

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        geran

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        Well thank you Jerry.

        That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day!

        And to return the nicety, the correct spelling is “populism”. Glad to help.

        Have a great day.

    • Avatar

      jerry krause

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      Hi Geran,

      Thank you for correcting another one of my mistakes.

      Glad you agree with me. My point, which you confirmed, is that your purpose is to convince ordinary people (non-scientists interested in learning about science???) that all scientists are members of an established elite group (which is generally a fact) and therefore it seems to follow that ALL scientists are not to be believed. Is this your point?

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        geran

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        Jerry, you seem quite confused. First you claim that I have “confirmed” your point, then you ask me what my point was!

        I’m glad to help.

        You always state that definitions are important. So, we must define a “scientist”. A scientist is someone that seeks knowledge of truth. A scientist, therefore, does not engage in activities such as deceptions, distortions, and censorship. An “elite group” may call them themselves “scientists”, but if they avoid reality, they avoid truth. An “elite group” can hide within cloistered walls, conniving to deceive the public, as exposed by the UEA-CRU emails, and then protect themselves, when caught, by holding a “trial” of “pals” in the “elite group”.

        Criminal gangs often consider themselves an “elite group”.

      • Avatar

        jerry krause

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        Hi Geran.

        You state: “A scientist is someone that seeks knowledge of truth.” WRONG!!!

        A scientist is someone that seeks to prove what is absolutely WRONG. Which is the only thing that science can prove. As Einstein stated: “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

        And I believe that Einstein knew more about SCIENCE than a politician like you admit to be.

        Have a good day, Jerry

        • Avatar

          geran

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          Well Jerry, even your convoluted definition of “scientist” would then result in no scientist believing in the IPCC/AGW/GHE/CO2 nonsense.

          So, we agree, the promotors of the nonsense are NOT scientists.

          Have a great day.

      • Avatar

        jerry krause

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        Hi Geran.

        Real scientists believe that which they cannot know for they know that which is not the Truth.

        Have a good day, Jerry

        • Avatar

          geran

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          You’re still having trouble with this, Jerry.

          “Real” science is NOT about “believing”. It’s “pseudoscience” that is about beliefs, opinions, and, of course, funding.

          Have a great day.

        • Avatar

          James McGinn

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          Jerry:
          Real scientists believe that which they cannot know for they know that which is not the Truth.

          James:
          Brilliant! You are so wise. This is true in many ways.

          James McGinn

          • Avatar

            jerry krause

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            Hi James,

            I assume you are not being sarcastic. So, thank you and it is good we can agree on somethings.

            Have a good day, Jerry

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi Geran.

    Real scientists believe that which they cannot know for they know that which is not the Truth.

    Have a good day, Jerry

  • Avatar

    jerry krause

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    Hi Matt,

    There are a few reasons for this comment.

    First I consider this article is an example of the real science of the past when science was international (scientists from various nations working together on the same problem (trying to understand something). And you may have missed it while you were fishing.

    Second, Uppsala University has a new Chair with whom you might agree. She caused me to learn a new word. With the result that Geran agrees that he is a politician and not a scientist.

    Third, James McGinn evidently believes I am wise. To appreciate this you need to be aware that we, James and I, have long history of fundamental disagreements.

    How is this for news you may have missed?

    Have a good day, Jerry
    .

    • Avatar

      Herb Rose

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      Hi Jerry,
      “Real scientists believe that which they cannot know for they know that which is not the Truth.” is probably one of the most confusing wordings you have ever used Does this mean that someone who believes Einstein’s general relativity but has no idea what it is, is a real scientist? Science is the search for knowledge that leads to the truth. A scientist understands that what he believes is not complete or will be found to be wrong and that the truth is a twisting journey without a final destination.
      Have a good day,
      Herb.

      • Avatar

        James McGinn

        |

        I took it to mean that ultimately we can’t know what is true we can only know what is false (and.or false in principle) and we assume that what remains is true. And from this remainder we construct models, our only guide thereafter being naked reason.

        This is what I though Jerry meant. But even if my interpretation is completely off target, it is a very wise statement, in my opinion.

        Greenhouse Goofiness
        https://anchor.fm/james-mcginn/episodes/Greenhouse-Goofiness-edrn8n

        James McGinn / Genius
        President, Solving Tornadoes

        • Avatar

          Herb Rose

          |

          Hi James,
          I always thought what we know is data that we get from experience and observations.
          What we believe to be true is how we interpret what that data means. We can expand and add to the data causing a change what we believe to be true but the data itself or the facts shouldn’t change.
          Skepticism and the need to verify are the basic driving force of science and this applies to our own beliefs.
          Jerry’s comment is a good example of, what we want to say, what we write, and what people think we mean may all be completely different.
          Herb

      • Avatar

        jerry krause

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        Hi James,

        Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth.” Which is what you have just stated with a few different words.

        But I do not agree that science (observation) can ever determine the TRUTH. For one cannot never know when one will see the observation that proves an idea to be wrong.

        I have already referred to Einstein’s statement that implies he can never be certain that his ideas are the truth even if supported by many, many experimental results.

        Philosophers pretend to be able to determine the TRUTH by their superior reasoning powers. Aristotle’s idea that the earth stood still was accepted as the TRUTH so Galileo had to lie that it did stand still to save his life even if he had observations which proved that it did not not.

        Richard Feynman, as scientist, stated on two occasions (one at the 1955 autumn meeting of the National Academy of Sciences and one in a book he wrote as he was dying of cancer–“What Do You Care What Other People Think?”) And in his book one should read his preface to his former address (The Value of Science).

        “I would now like to turn to a third value that science has. It is a little less direct, but not much. The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, his is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darn sure of what the result is going to be, he is still in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance that in order to progress we must recognize our ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty–some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none absolutely certain.”

        I could stop quoting here but Feynman stated three more pages on this theme of uncertainty. But I will only quote the next paragraph.

        “Now, we scientists are used to this, and we take it for granted that it is perfectly consistent to be unsure, that it is possible to live and not know. But I don’t know whether everyone realizes this is true. Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question–to doubt–to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained. Herein lies a responsibility to society.”

        And as a scientist I have just shouldered this responsibility. What you do will be up to each who read this. Einstein tried and Feynman tried and if authorities control what you must think, it is not their fault, or mine. We have done all we could and can do.

        Have a good day, Jerry

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