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No Such Thing as a Dormant Volcano? Magma Chambers Awake Sooner Than Thought

ScienceDaily (Mar. 6, 2011)

Full article found HERE

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Crater of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Is there no such thing as a dormant volcano? (Credit: iStockphoto/Arnel Manalang)

Until now it was thought that once a volcano’s magma chamber had cooled down it remained dormant for centuries before it could be remobilized by fresh magma.

A theoretical model was tested on two major eruptions and completely overturned this hypothesis: the reawakening of a chamber could take place in just a few months. This research should lead to a reassessment of the dangerousness of some dormant volcanoes.

A magma chamber is a large reservoir of molten rock (magma) located several kilometers beneath a volcano, which it feeds with magma. But what happens to the magma chamber when the volcano is not erupting? According to volcanologists, it cools down to an extremely viscous mush until fresh magma from deep inside Earth ‘reawakens’ it, in other words fluidizes it by heating it through thermal contact. The large size of magma chambers (ranging from a few tenths to a few hundred cubic kilometers) explains why, according to this theory, it takes several hundred or even thousand years for the heat to spread to the whole reservoir, awakening the volcano from its dormant state.

Depending on the size of the chamber and the viscosity of the magma it contains, a few months may be sufficient to rekindle its activity … whereas the conventional theory gave a figure of 500 years.

This research is likely to encourage the volcanology community to take a closer look at the physical parameters of magma chambers. By determining these parameters, it may one day be possible to use this new model to estimate the time lapse between the initial tremors of a volcano and its eruption.

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