Washington DC: According to a recent study, supervolcanoes, massive eruptions with potential global consequences, appear not to follow the conventional volcano mechanics of internal pressure building until the volcano blows.
Instead, the new study finds that such massive magma chambers might erupt when the roof above them cracks or collapses.
Knowledge of triggering mechanisms is crucial for monitoring supervolcano systems, including ones that lie beneath Yellowstone National Park and Long Valley, California, according to the study led by Patricia Gregg, University of Illinois, in collaboration with Eric Grosfils of Pomona College and Shan de Silva of Oregon State University.
Gregg said that it's very likely that supereruptions must be triggered by an external mechanism and not an internal mechanism, which makes them very different from the typical, smaller volcanoes that we monitor.
A supervolcano is classed as more than 500 cubic kilometers of erupted magma volume. For comparison, Gregg said, Mount St. Helen's ejected about one cubic kilometer of material, so a supervolcano is more than five hundred times larger.
"A typical volcano, when it erupts, can have lasting impacts across the globe," Gregg said. "We've seen that in Iceland when we've had large ash eruptions that have completely disrupted air traffic across Europe. A supereruption takes that to the nth degree."
The study appears in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.