Saturday, February 25, 2006

Study helps scientists to understand what happens underground prior to volcano eruptions!

Researchers at Leeds University are part of a project known as ERUPT – or European Research on Understanding Processes and Timescales of Magma Evolution in Volcanic Systems – which looks at the behaviour of four volcanoes.The Leeds team has been investigating Stromboli, in Italy, and why the pattern of its eruptions dramatically changed in 2002.

Stromboli is known as "the lighthouse of the Mediterranean" because of its regular mild eruptions which have made it a tourist attraction.But around every 10 years the pattern changes and becomes more violent and it is one of these periods three years ago that scientists in Leeds have been investigating.By studying material thrown from the volcano the researchers have been able to chart what was happening beneath the surface before the violent eruptions began.

Professor Marjorie Wilson, from the university's School of Earth and Environment, compared the technique to reading the rings in tree trunks.Scientists on the ERUPT project have been able to match information gained from deposits around volcanoes to geophysics readings taken from them to put a timescale on events under ground and draw links to later eruptions.

Professor Wilson warned every volcano was different and it was a case of finding out "what makes each one tick."She added: "Nevertheless we have made a fundamental jump forward."In all, seven universities across the European Union are taking part in the ERUPT project, including Durham University.Being able to predict when a volcano will erupt and on what scale is considered the "holy grail" of vulcanologists, who study the phenomena.

Millions of people around the world live in the shadow of volcanoes and being able to accurately chart their behaviour could save lives.Professor Jon Davidson, from Durham University, said: "These new techniques are helping us build up profiles for different volcano types, which will help vulcanologists around the world understand better how magma works, its composition, what makes it more volatile, how it is stored and how and when it is likely to cause an eruption."ERUPT is a three-year project funded by the European Union.

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