Showing: 1 - 2 of 2 RESULTS

What lies beneath a volcano?

What lies beneath a volcano?
Instead of observing one large magma chamber beneath the volcano, the map reveals a complex amalgamation of smaller volcanic rock formations. Credit: University of Aberdeen

The complex plumbing system beneath volcanoes has been revealed in the clearest detail ever, marking a “major step forward” in our understanding of how they are formed and behave.


An international team of geologists has analyzed the subsurface geology of the Erlend volcano in the Faroe-Shetland basin of the North Atlantic, allowing them to produce a detailed 3-D map showing the volcano’s inner workings. It was once a small volcanic island that last erupted 58 million years ago, and is now buried and preserved underneath 1 km of sediment on the sea floor.

Instead of observing one large magma chamber beneath the volcano, the map reveals a complex amalgamation of smaller volcanic rock formations. It also suggests the long-assumed concept of a vertical, cylinder-like conduit that connects magma chambers and volcanoes—the ‘balloon and straw’ – is oversimplified.

The map is revealed as part of a paper published in the journal Geology, co-authored by geologists at the universities of Aberdeen, Adelaide, and Oslo. It is part of a project led by Faye Walker, a Ph.D. student at Aberdeen and participant in the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Center for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas.

The team looked at seismic data provided by energy data company TGS, to understand the interaction of volcanic rock with petroleum systems in the far north of the Faroe-Shetland Basin, an area with significant gas reserves.

Aberdeen Ph.D. student Faye Walker, who carried out the analysis of the 3-D seismic data, said:

“Much of our understanding of how magma is moved around the Earth’s crust is still conceptual, but by producing the clearest images yet of the complex plumbing systems that underlie volcanoes, we can see things with our own eyes. This is a major step forward in terms of advancing the science around how volcanoes are formed and behave.”

Dr. Nick Schofield, from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Geosicences, added:

“Understanding the plumbing systems below volcanoes is usually really challenging, but this work has revealed this in detail. Understanding the plumbing systems below volcanoes is usually really challenging, and to see them in the field the overlying volcano has to be eroded. This makes understanding the connection between the magma and understanding how it transits into the volcano difficult. This work has revealed this in detail. In terms of oil and gas exploration, the area in which the data was collected is potentially really important for the UK’s future gas needs as part of the energy transition, where gas has a vital role as a ‘carbon bridge’ leading to a greener future. Understanding the size of the magma chamber and the heating effect on the rocks which produce oil and gas will lead to better understanding of the area’s potential.”

Dr. Simon Holford, from the University of Adelaide, said the findings could potentially play an important role in

Iceland’s most active volcano may be about to erupt

A cloud of smoke and ash is seen over the Grímsvötn volcano on Iceland on May 21, 2011 after its last eruption. (Getty)
A cloud of smoke and ash is seen over the Grímsvötn volcano on Iceland on May 21, 2011 after its last eruption. (Getty)

Iceland’s most active volcano may be on the verge of erupting after scientists detected increased seismic activity in the area.

The Icelandic Met Office (IMO) said the seismic activity at the Grímsvötn volcano has been increasing during the past month.

The Aviation Colour Code for the volcano was raised to yellow from green on 1 October.

In 2011, Grímsvötn had a major eruption, causing Icelandic airspace to close and 900 flights to be cancelled.

The IMO said raising the Aviation Colour Code did not mean an eruption was imminent, but added: “Multiple datasets now indicate that Grímsvötn volcano has reached a level of unrest.”

They said ground deformation had exceeded the levels seen before the 2011 eruption.

The 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption sent a cloud of ash over Europe causing travel chaos that led to around 100,000 flight cancellations.

The air industry which has already been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic will be fearful of another eruption causing further travel chaos.

Grímsvötn is Iceland’s most active volcano with over 65 recorded eruptions in the past 800 years.

According to scientists, Grímsvötn erupts every five to 10 years on average, with nine years since the last one.

Read more: Astonishing video shows lightning storm inside Taal volcano

A cloud of smoke caused by the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption which led to hundreds of flights being canceled. (Getty)
A cloud of smoke caused by the 2011 Grímsvötn eruption which led to hundreds of flights being canceled. (Getty)

Read more: Hawaii volcano creates new land after lava smothers homes and fills ocean bay

It sits beneath a glacier, is almost entirely encased in ice and produces extremely high temperatures, even for a volcano.

The high temperatures have led to the creation of a lake around the volcano but beneath the glacier.

The water can escape when it flows south and has caused landslides and washed away bridges in the past.

If all the water in the subglacial lake drains it can trigger an immediate eruption.

The removal of the water dramatically reduces the pressure around the volcano, triggering an explosion – this has been the cause of eruptions in the past.

Scientists have recently recorded more magma flows in the volcano leading the more ice being melted.

The main force of the explosion would be absorbed by the lake and ice that the volcano sits under, meaning any ash that does escape to the surface is bogged down with moisture.

This should limit the spread of any ash clouds to tens of miles rather than hundreds and cause it to fall out of the air fairly quickly.

Watch: Mesmerising footage of molten lava flowing from volcano and swallowing tin can

The Aviation Colour Code system is an alert system that specifically focuses on the threat of ash clouds caused by volcanic eruptions.

It has four levels, green, yellow, orange and red. Another volcano, Reykjanes, was moved to yellow in January.

The last time it was raised to orange was