Where Mauna Loa’s lava is coming from – and why Hawaii’s volcanoes are different from most

Gabi Laske is a professor of geophysics on the University of California—San Diego.

Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the world’s largest energetic volcano, started sending up fountains of glowing rock and spilling lava from fissures as its first eruption in practically 4 a long time started on Nov. 27.

Where does all that lava come from?

We requested Gabi Laske, a geophysicist on the University of California-San Diego who led one of many first initiatives to map the deep plumbing that feeds the Hawaiian Islands’ volcanoes, to elucidate.

Where is the magma surfacing at Mauna Loa coming from?

The magma that comes out of Mauna Loa comes from a sequence of magma chambers discovered between about 1 and 25 miles (2 and 40 km) beneath the floor. These magma chambers are solely short-term storage locations with magma and gases, and are not the place the magma initially got here from.

The origin is a lot deeper in Earth’s mantle, maybe greater than 620 miles (1,000 km) deep. Some scientists even postulate that the magma comes from a depth of 1,800 miles (2,900 km), the place the mantle meets Earth’s core.

An illustration of Hawaii's mantle plume
An illustration suggests what Hawaii’s mantle plume may seem like. 

Joel E Robinson/USGS

Earth’s crust is made up of tectonic plates that are slowly shifting, at about the identical pace as a fingernail grows. Volcanoes sometimes happen the place these plates both transfer away from one another or the place one pushes beneath one other. But volcanoes may also be in the course of plates, as Hawaii’s volcanoes are in the Pacific Plate.

The crust and mantle that comprise the Pacific Plate cracks at different locations because it strikes northwestward. Beneath Hawaii, magma can transfer upward by way of the cracks to feed different volcanoes on the floor. The similar factor occurs at Maui’s Haleakala, which last erupted about 250 years in the past.

How does molten rock journey from deep in Earth’s mantle, and what precisely is a mantle plume?

Scientists hypothesize that the mantle is not product of uniform rock. Instead, differences in the type of mantle rock make it soften at different temperatures. Mantle rock is stable at some locations, whereas it begins to soften at different locations.

The partially molten rock turns into buoyant and ascends towards the floor. The ascending mantle rock is what makes a mantle plume. Because the overlying stress lessens because the rock ascends, it melts extra and extra, and finally collects within the magma chamber. If a big sufficient opening exists on the floor, and sufficient volcanic gases have collected within the magma chamber, the magma is compelled to the floor in a volcanic eruption.

An illustration of the origin of Mauna Loa's magma
The origin of the magma could also be greater than 620 miles deep, and some scientists have advised it might comes from a depth of 1,800 miles, the place the mantle meets Earth’s core.

Gabi Laske

Seismic imaging by analysis groups I’m concerned with has proven that Hawaii’s mantle plume comes from deep inside the mantle.

But the plume is not a straight pipe as some idea figures counsel. Instead, it has twists and turns, initially coming from the southeast, however then turning towards the west of Hawaii because the plume reaches into the shallower mantle. Cracks within the Pacific Plate then channel the magma upward towards the magma chamber beneath the island of Hawaii.

Why does Hawaii sometimes see much less dramatic eruptions than different areas?

Hawaii is in the course of an oceanic plate. In reality, it is the most remoted volcanic scorching spot on Earth, distant from any plate boundary.

Oceanic magma is very different from continental magma. It has a different chemical composition and flows far more simply. So, the magma is less prone to clog volcanic vents on its ascent, which might in the end result in extra explosive volcanism.

Mauna Loa Eruption 2022 – Thermal Imagery by

How do scientists know what is occurring beneath the floor?

Volcanic exercise is monitored with many different devices.

The maybe easiest to know is GPS. The approach scientists use GPS is different from that of on a regular basis life. It can detect minuscule actions of some centimeters. On volcanoes, any upward motion on the floor detected by GPS signifies that one thing is pushing from beneath.

Even extra delicate are tiltmeters, which are in essence the identical as bubble ranges that individuals use to hold footage on a wall. Any change within the tilt on a volcano slope signifies that the volcano is “breathing,” once more due to magma shifting beneath.

An illustration of the historic lava flows from Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa has a historical past of eruptions. Here’s the place the lava tends to go. USGS

An important device is looking ahead to seismic exercise.

Volcanoes like Hawaii’s are monitored with a big community of seismographs. Any motion of magma beneath will trigger tremors that are picked up by the seismometers. A number of weeks earlier than the eruption of Mauna Loa, scientists seen that the tremors got here from ever shallower depths, indicating that magma was rising and an eruption is perhaps imminent. This allowed scientists to warn the public.

Other ways in which volcanic exercise is monitored embrace chemical evaluation of gases coming out through fumaroles – holes or cracks by way of which volcanic gases escape. If the composition modifications or exercise will increase, that is a reasonably clear indication that the volcano is altering.

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation beneath a Creative Commons license. 

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