Tiny Volcanic Crystals Could Save Lives by Predicting Eruptions
Of all natural disasters, history and literature have a special place for the volcanic eruption. From Pompei to Tommy Lee Jones' Volcano, we find ourselves endlessly fascinated with the Deus ex Machina of an eruption from inside the deep recesses of our Earth. Much of the thrill, danger and intrigue surrounding volcanic eruptions also lies in the fact that they can be extremely difficult to predict.
Now a team of volcanologists from Australia and Ireland think they may have found a tangible, effective way to tell when an eruption is imminent. Using a new laser technique to examine the composition of tiny crystals called clinopyroxene that form deep inside a volcano, the scientists have discovered growth layers. Not unlike the rings on the inside of a tree, these layers present a history of the volcano that might show which mountains are dormant, and which are active.
"Clinopyroxene is common in basaltic to intermediate volcanoes, however, its ability as a recorder of pre-eruptive histories has remained comparatively underexplored," they say in the abstract of their newly published study. "Clinopyroxene zonations distinguish between injections of mafic magma and regular recharges with more evolved magma, which often fail to tip the system to erupt. High Cr zonations can, therefore, be used to reconstruct past eruptions and inform responses to geophysical signals of volcano unrest, potentially offering an additional approach to volcano hazard monitoring."