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Scientific research. How to predict a volcanic eruption? All you need is minerals and a microscope

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An international group of scientists has developed a method of analyzing volcanic crystals that allows you to assess how deep the magma is with an accuracy of one hundred meters. This knowledge can help predict when the next volcanic eruption might occur.

Predicting volcanic eruptions is no easy task. In recent years, scientists have used satellite imagery, seismic data and GPS to look for ground deformations near active volcanoes. However, these techniques do not allow to accurately locate the depth at which magma accumulates. As the study published in “Science Advances” indicates, the solution to this research problem may lie in microscopic analyses.

Fluid enclosed in crystals

An international group of scientists focused on the analysis of olivines – minerals of volcanic origin, whose crystallization often accompanies eruptions. These crystals very often contain microscopic inclusions – “bubbles” filled with liquid carbon dioxide. The researchers used olivines from the 2021 eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma. The liquid extracted from them was examined using a technique known as Raman spectroscopy.

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Researchers noticed that the carbon dioxide content in the liquid depended on the pressure in the environment of the crystal being formed. Based on this information, scientists were able to calculate how deep the magma from which the mineral was formed lay, and how deep its reservoir was. Knowing the relationship between carbon dioxide concentration and depth, they then developed a methodology for the study and calibrated the laboratory equipment so that it was possible to determine the depth of the magma with an accuracy of one hundred meters.

“We’ve improved the precision by an order of magnitude, from kilometers to meters,” says Esteban Gazel of Cornell University in New York State, the study’s lead author. ‘We also increased the spatial resolution of inclusion measurements, from tens of microns to one micron, compared to previously available techniques.

Volcanic eruption in Iceland in May 2021Shutterstock

Quickly and accurately

As Gazel explains, knowing where magma accumulates in the Earth’s crust and mantle is crucial when predicting volcanic eruptions. This location “is significant because you can assess the risk of an eruption by pinpointing the specific location of the magma.” However, what counts in these studies is speed and precision.

– This shows the great potential of this technique – explains the scientist. “We can get data within days of samples arriving from the collection site, which provides near-real-time results.

Scientists hope that the study of olivine crystals with liquid inclusions will allow us to better understand the processes that occur during a volcanic eruption. Gazel adds that in this way “we can uncover some of the volcanic secrets of the Earth’s depths to better understand and prepare for future eruptions.”

Volcano eruptionAdam Ziemienowicz/PAP

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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