A new study has discovered a previously undetected magma chamber beneath Kolumbo, a active underwater volcano in the Mediterranean sea near Santorini, Greece.
A group of international researchers used a novel imaging technique for volcanoes that produces high-resolution images of seismic wave properties, according to a January 21 report. 12 statement from the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
The study was published in AGU’s journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, and the authors noted that the presence of the chamber “represents a serious danger, as it could produce a highly explosive tsunamigenic eruption in the near future.”
The researchers recommend real-time hazard monitoring stations near other active submarine volcanoes to improve estimates of when an eruption is likely to occur.
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“The current state of the reservoir indicates that an explosive eruption with high social impact is possible (although not imminent) in the future, so we suggest establishing a permanent observatory that involves continuous monitoring of earthquakes… and geodesy of the seabed” they wrote.
The indicated eruption would be similar but smaller in magnitude than the recent one. Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruptionbringing a predicted tsunami and an eruptive column tens of kilometers high.
The study was reportedly the first to use full-waveform inversion seismic imaging to look for changes in magmatic activity below the surface of submarine volcanoes along the Hellenic Arc, where the volcano is located.
Technology is applied to seismic profiles, or records of ground motion along kilometer-long lines, and assesses differences in wave speeds that may indicate subsurface anomalies. The group found that full waveform inversion technology can be used in volcanic regions to find potential locations, sizes, and melt rates of mobile magma bodies.
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The seismic profiles were built after scientists fired air gun shots from a research ship sailing over the volcanic region, triggering seismic waves that were recorded by ocean-floor seismometers located along the arc.
A significantly lower velocity of seismic waves traveling below the seabed indicated the presence of a moving magma chamber below Kolumbo, according to the study, with the characteristics of the wave anomalies used to better understand the potential hazards it may present the magma chamber.
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 Colombo’s last eruption in 1650 ADnearly 400 years ago.
The last time Columbus erupted, killed 70 people in Santorini.
The study’s lead author noted that if the current rate of magma chamber growth continues, sometime in the next 150 years the volcano could reach the 2 cubic kilometers of melt volume estimated to have been ejected during the eruption of 1650 CE.
Although the volumes of volcanic melt can be estimated, there is no way to know for sure when Kolumbo, which is about 500 meters deep, will erupt.
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“We need better data on 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 would allow us to have a better estimate of when an eruption might occur. With these systems, we would probably know about an eruption a few days before it happened, and people would be able to evacuate and stay safe.”
Over the past few years, scientists have worked on establishing SANTORY (Santorini’s Seabed Volcanic Observatory) which will be able to measure progressions in Kolumbo’s volcanic activity. It is still in development.
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