Large Magma Chamber Sits Below World’s Most Active Volcano
January 29, 2014

Large Magma Chamber Sits Below World’s Most Active Volcano

[ Watch the Video: What's Bubbling Below The Kilauea Volcano? ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science researchers have discovered a large magma chamber below the world’s most active volcano.

The new discovery is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deeper parts of Kilauea. For the study, the team analyzed the seismic waves that travel through the volcano. This methodology allowed them to look at the internal structure of the volcanic system, leading them to find the chamber about 5 to 6.8 miles below the Earth’s surface.

Researchers used the seismic data to develop a 3D velocity model of a magma anomaly to determine the size, depth and composition of the chamber.

"It was known before that Kilauea had small, shallow magma chambers," Gouging Lin, UM Rosenstiel School assistant professor of geology and geophysics and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "This study is the first geophysical observation that large magma chambers exist in the deep oceanic crust below."

The study revealed the magma chamber is composed of 10-percent magma and 90-percent rock. The magma reservoir below Kilauea is similar to those seen beneath volcanoes located at mid-ocean ridges.

“This reservoir could have supplied the magma that intruded into the deep section of the east rift zone and caused its rapid expansion following the 1975 M7.2 Kalapana earthquake,” the scientists wrote in the journal Geology.

"Understanding these magma bodies are a high priority because of the hazard posed by the volcano," Falk Amelung, co-author and professor of geology and geophysics at the UM Rosenstiel School, said in a statement. "Kilauea volcano produces many small earthquakes and paying particular attention to new seismic activity near this body will help us to better understand where future lava eruptions will come from."

Kilauea has been in continuous eruption for more than 30 years, making it the most active volcano in the world. Research in 2006 revealed that not only is it the most active, it is also a big air polluter. Scientists say that the volcano has been sending an average of 1,000 metric tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere each day since it first began erupting on January 3, 1983. This is 6,000 times the amount emitted by a major industrial polluter on the mainland.