Lava "Music" can explain the eruption rhythms of the world's most active volcano

Lava “Music” can explain the eruption rhythms of the world’s most active volcano

The sound of surging lava is music to a volcanologist’s ears. The echoing burps and burps can help reveal what is happening deep inside a volcano’s belly.

Listening to the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii has allowed scientists to track the temperature of magma and the migration of volcanic gases as they bubble to the surface.

The findings have revealed something unexpected about the volcano’s famous eruption in 2018.

“It’s a new view of the dynamics of a really popular volcano,” says soil researcher Leif Karlström from the University of Oregon.

“People could stand near the edge of the lava lake and visit the lava flows that come out. But beneath the surface, there was much more going on.”

For 10 years, between 2008 and 2018, has Kilauea volcanoes experienced mild eruptions of lava on an almost continuous basis.

Then, suddenly, two dozen valves exploded above the eastern fracture zone and pushed up fountains of molten rock into the air.

The outbreak was followed by several years of silence, to September 2021when it sprayed lava again.

Kilauea is often said to be the most active volcano in the world, and much of it picky comes from inside the Halema’uma’u crater. This crater is located on top of the volcano and is filled with a lava lake.

Lava Lake is believed to be constantly being filled up by an underground chamber of magma. But how the deeper dynamics work is still largely unknown.

By placing seismic sensors around the crater, scientists hope to penetrate the boiling abyss.

The technique they use is similar to listening to the tone a half-filled bottle gives when you press it. As with the bottle, the vibrations that ring through the volcano depend on its contents.

“When something physically disturbs the magma chamber or the lava lake, it swells around, and we can measure it with seismometers.” explaining geophysicist Josh Crozier, also from the University of Oregon.

“During this decade-long eruption, we discovered tens of thousands of such events. We combine this data with a physics-based model of processes that create these signals.”

Scientists are not quite sure what the sounds mean yet, but they hope to learn Kīlauea’s “song” so that they can better predict when the volcano will have an explosive eruption again.

Without taking any direct measurements of the lava lake itself, the team has been able to track bubbling gas and changing temperatures over the course of eight active years.

Strangely enough, just before the 2018 eruption, the authors noticed no signs of magma influx into the lava lake.

The temperature and chemistry in the lava lake were largely consistent in 2018. Nothing changed dramatically before the eruption.

This means that an influx of magma was probably not what triggered the eruption, as scientists once believed.

Instead of the underground magma chamber feeding the lava lake until a sufficiently high pressure was reached, it seems as if the explosion actually occurred from the opposite process.

Lava appears to have drained out of the main system and spread eastward through a 10-kilometer-long underground tunnel. It was this that probably triggered the great eruption in the eastern divide, which eventually destroyed 700 homes and displaced more than 2,000 people.

366 aaz0147 fa (Gansecki et al., Science, 2018. Photos by the US Geological Survey)

Above: Simplified model of Kilauea’s magma system that feeds the 2018 eruption in the lower eastern rift zone.

Kilauea may be one of the best studied volcanoes in the world, but its plumbing is still a lot of mystery.

Scientists do not yet fully understand the true nature of the volcano’s lava lake, its fracture zone or its underground magma sources.

The deep sounds of lava can one day help us hear what we cannot see.

The study was published in The progress of science.

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