New research is looking at ways to use mineral crystals within magmas to help improve the prediction of dangerous volcanic eruptions like the one affecting the island of St Vincent.

As the La Soufrière volcano eruption in St Vincent continues to risk lives, destroy homes and is damaging infrastructure all over the region, it is clear that volcanos remain one of the most dangerous kinds of natural disaster.

One of the very few ways to manage volcanic eruptions is predicting when and what kind of eruption will occur.  Dr Joaquín Cortés from Edge Hill University is part of the team of researchers who recently published new experimental data that proves how tiny crystals growing in a cooling-down magma influences the explosivity of an eruption.

Dr Joaquín Cortés said: “Our research looked at andesitic volcanoes, the same type as the La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent. They produce the most dangerous eruptions because their dome-like structure causes massive amounts of pressure to build up resulting in what’s known as a Vulcanian Explosion – releasing ash, gas and fragmented magma that can have catastrophic results.”

Joaquín and the team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Liverpool University and the Colombian Geological Survey looked at the cooler, slow-moving magma that causes eruptions by blocking volcanic vents and forming ‘plugs’.

The study of this process can give clues to how likely and explosive an eruption will be.

The team collected and tested samples with different amount of crystals from Galeras volcano in the South of Colombia. The samples were put in similar conditions of pressure and temperature as when they were part of a volcanic plug and the flowing behaviour and permeability was measured.

Dr Cortés said, “We found that the crystal content affects dramatically the flow and rheology of magma and plays a big role in the explosivity of a particular eruption.

“The existence of magmatic plugs with variable physical properties, in particular crystal content, has important implications for the build-up of the critical overpressure that drives Vulcanian explosions and thus can be used for hazard assessment during volcanic crises.”

It is hoped that further analysis on the crystallinity of magmas of all kinds around the world will give new insights into when they will erupt and how dangerous the eruptions will be.

This would give governments and communities more time to prepare and evacuate, potentially saving lives in hundreds of locations all over the world.

The team’s full paper can be accessed here – www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feart.2020.611320/full.

If you would like to study Geography, Edge Hill University offers a variety of courses including BA (Hons) GeographyBSc (Hons) GeographyBSc (Hons) Geoenvironmental Hazards, BSc (Hons) Geology with Geography and BSc (Hons) Geography and Geology.