Gaseous CO2: A New Driver for Explosive Volcanic Eruptions

Layered lava flows within the Wai Subgroup from near Ambenali Ghat, Western Ghats. CREDIT -Courtney Sprain

ITHACA, N.Y. – Groundbreaking research at Cornell University reveals that gaseous carbon dioxide may play a pivotal role in triggering explosive volcanic eruptions, challenging the long-held belief that water is the primary activator.

Basaltic Volcanoes: Deep Earth Origins

The study uncovers that basaltic volcanoes, predominantly located within tectonic plates, are powered by magma originating from the mantle, located 20-30 km beneath the Earth’s surface.

Implications for Volcanic Hazard Planning

Insights into Earth’s profound internal mechanics and composition from this study can greatly influence strategies formulated for managing volcanic threats. The research is set to be unveiled on August 7, 2023, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Research Behind the Discovery

New Techniques in Magma Analysis: About four years ago, a collaborative effort between Esteban Gazel and Charlotte DeVitre, Ph.D., led to the creation of an innovative carbon dioxide densimeter for Raman spectroscopy. This instrument was crucial in analyzing tiny CO2 bubbles in volcanic crystals, offering a glimpse into the magma’s history.

Challenges Faced: Gazel highlighted the complexities of developing these tools, especially amidst the pandemic constraints.

A Deep Dive into Fogo Volcano: Using their new instruments, the team studied volcanic samples from the Fogo volcano in Cabo Verde. Their findings suggest a significant carbon dioxide content in the magma, indicative of its deep storage within Earth’s mantle.

Future Eruption Preparedness

Understanding magma’s storage points can better equip societies to face future eruptions. Gazel emphasized the importance of precise measurements to enhance eruption preparedness strategies.

Collaboration and Funding

The research paper, titled “Oceanic Intraplate Explosive Eruptions Fed Directly from the Mantle,” is a collective effort of global researchers. Financial support for this groundbreaking work was procured from the National Science Foundation, with crucial data collected in collaboration with Cornell University’s Biotechnology facilities, backed by the National Institutes of Health.

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