A surprising magma chamber has been found under a Mediterranean volcano near a popular tourist destination
A new study has revealed a previously undiscovered magma chamber under Kolumbo, which is Active submarine volcano in the Mediterranean Sea near Santorini, Greece.
A group of international researchers has used a new imaging technology of volcanoes that produces high-resolution images of seismic wave properties, according to the January 12 issue of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
The study was published in the journal AGU Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, and the authors noted that the chamber’s presence “poses a serious hazard as it could produce a highly explosive and tsunami-generating explosion in the near future.”
The researchers recommend real-time hazard monitoring stations near other active marine volcanoes to improve estimates of when an eruption is likely to occur.
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“The current state of the reservoir suggests that an explosive eruption with significant societal impact in the future is possible (although not imminent), so we propose the establishment of a permanent observatory that will include continuous monitoring of earthquakes…and seafloor geodesy,” they wrote.
The eruption indicated will be similar but of a smaller size than the latter Eruption of Honga Tonga volcano – Hong Haapeiwhich led to an expected tsunami and a volcanic column tens of kilometers high.
The study was reportedly the first to use full-wavelength reflection seismic imaging to search for changes in magmatic activity below the surface of subsea volcanoes along the Hellenic Arc, where the volcano is located.
The technology is applied to seismic profiles, or records Earth’s motions along kilometer-long lines, and assesses differences in wave velocities that may indicate anomalies below the surface. The group found that the whole waveform reflectance technique could be used in volcanic regions to find the potential locations, sizes and melt rates of mobile magma bodies.
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The seismic profiles were created after scientists fired volleys from air cannons from a research ship sailing over the volcanic region, resulting in seismic waves that were recorded by ocean floor seismometers located along the arc.
The significantly reduced velocity of seismic waves traveling under the seafloor indicates the presence of a moving magma chamber under Kolumbo, according to the study, with wave anomaly characteristics used to better understand potential hazards to which a magma chamber may be exposed.
The images helped identify a large magma chamber that has been growing at an average rate of about 4 million cubic meters per year since then. The last eruption of Colombo volcano in 1650 ADnearly 400 years ago.
The last time Colombo erupted, it is 70 people were killed in Santorini.
The lead author of the study noted that if the current rate of magma chamber growth continues, sometime in the next 150 years the volcano could reach the 2 cubic km of melt volume that was estimated during the 1650 CE eruption.
Although the magnitude of the volcanic melt can be estimated, there is no way to be sure when Colombo, which lies at a depth of about 500 meters, will erupt next.
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“We need better data about what’s really under these volcanoes,” Kajetan Chrapkiewicz, a geophysicist at Imperial College London and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Continuous monitoring systems allow us to get a better estimate of when an eruption will occur. With these systems, we will likely know about an eruption a few days before it happens, and people will be able to evacuate and stay safe.”
Over the past few years, scientists have been working to create a SANTORY (Santorini Seafloor Volcanic Observatory) which will be able to measure the progress of Kolumbo’s volcanic activity. It is still under development.