World news – Lead to Galapagos volcanic eruptions captured in rare detail


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March 2, 2021

from Pennsylvania State University

Hours before the 2018 Sierra Negra eruption, the Galapagos Islands’ largest volcano, an earthquake rumbled and raised the ground more than 6 feet in an instant. The event that triggered the eruption was captured in rare detail by an international team of scientists, offering new insights into one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

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« The strength of this study is that it is one of the first times that we have seen a full cycle of eruptions in this detail on almost every volcano, » said Peter La Femina, Associate Professor of Earth Sciences at Penn State. « We have monitored Sierra Negra from its last outbreak in 2005 to the outbreak in 2018 and beyond, and we have this beautiful record that is a rarity in itself. »

Broke for nearly two months in 2018 Lava from the volcano and covered about 30 square kilometers of Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos Islands, home to about 2,000 people and endangered species such as the Galapagos Islands giant tortoise.

« The Sierra Negra eruption in 2018 was a truly spectacular volcanic event that took place in the ‘living laboratory’ of the Galapagos Islands, « said Andrew Bell, volcanologist at the University of Edinburgh. « Thanks to great teamwork and a bit of luck, we were able to capture this unique data set that provides us with important new insights into how these volcanoes behave and how we can better predict future eruptions. »

While Sierra Negra is one of the most active volcanoes in the Heard of the world, its remote location previously made surveillance difficult. Scientists are now using networks of ground-based seismic and GPS monitoring stations and satellite observations to monitor the volcano.

« Based on constant monitoring of Galapagos volcano activity, we have seen a dramatic increase in seismicity and a steady one in the Sierra Negra Raising of the crater floor detected, « said Mario Ruiz, director of the Ecuador Geophysical Institute, the country’s national monitoring agency. « Soon we contacted colleagues from the UK, US and Ireland and suggested that they work together to investigate the mechanisms leading to an impending eruption of this volcano. This research is an example of international collaboration and partnership. »

Scientists collected data over 13 years as the volcano’s magma chamber gradually refilled after the 2005 eruption, polluting the surrounding crust and causing earthquakes. This lasted until June 2018 when an earthquake hit the Calderas fault system and triggered the subsequent eruption, the scientists said.

« We have this story of magma coming in and stressing the system to the point of failure and the entire system through dehydrated the eruption of lava flows, « said La Femina. « This is the first time anyone has seen this in great detail in the Galapagos Islands. This is the first time we have the data to say, ‘Okay, this happened here.' »

Often times during volcanic eruptions when magma chambers drain the ground above them, it sinks to form a bowl-like depression or caldera. However, Sierra Negra has seen a caldera resurgence making this area higher than before the eruption, the scientists said.

The Sierra Negra caldera has a « trapdoor flaw » hinged at one end while the other is through ascending magma can be lifted up. The scientists found that the failure caused the hills within the six-mile-wide caldera to rise more than 6 feet vertically during the earthquake that triggered the eruption.

The caldera’s resurgence, which for a A better understanding of the eruptions is important, had not been observed in such detail before, the scientists reported in the journal Nature Communications.

« The resurgence is typical of explosive calderas in volcanoes like Yellowstone, not of the shield volcanoes we see in the Galapagos Islands or see Hawaii, « said La Femina. « This gives us a chance to look at other volcanoes in the Galapagos and say, ‘Well, that is exactly what could have happened to form this caldera or resurgent ridge.' »

The scientists said the results could helping her colleagues in Ecuador to better monitor riots and warn of future outbreaks.

« There are people who live on Isabella Island, so it is important to investigate and understand how these eruptions occur in order to to deal with the dangers and risks to the local population, « said La Femina.

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