2009 Saudi earthquakes linked to magmatic intrusion
I write the Eruptions blog on Big Think. I've been mesmerized with volcanoes (and geology) all my life. It helps that part of my family comes from the shadow of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, where I could see first hand the deadly effects of volcanic eruptions. Since then, I've taken a bit of a winding path to become a volcanologist. I started as a history major at Williams College, almost went into radio, but ended up migrating to geology, including an undergraduate thesis on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. I followed this up by changing coast to get my Ph.D. from Oregon State University. Then I ran a MC-ICP-MS lab at University of Washington for a spell (and wrote for an indie rock website). I spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar at University of California - Davis studying the inner workings of magmatic systems. I am now an assistant professor at Denison University and have projects in New Zealand, Chile and Oregon.
I am fascinated by volcanoes, their eruptions and how those eruptions interact with the people who live around the volcanoes. I started this blog after getting frustrated with the news reports of volcanic eruptions. Most of them get the information wrong and/or are just sensationalistic. I will try to summarize eruptions as they occur, translate some of the volcanic processes that are happening and comment on the reports themselves.
And no matter what people tell you, I definitely do not have a cat named Tephra. (OK, I do).
You can find out more about my research by visiting my website. If you have any comments, questions or information, feel free to contact me at eruptionsblog at gmail dot com.
On this rainy Monday morning ... Let's hop in the Wayback Machine and head to the year 2009. Back in May of that year, we spent a lot of time worrying about a lot of shaking going on in northwestern Saudi Arabia. The earthquakes were centered under a known volcanic field called Harrat Lunayyir and based on the behavior of the seismicity, reports from on the cracks in the ground, sulfur odors and "whooshing noises" and the location of the activity - in an area with an eruption as recently as ~1000 AD, many of us thought another eruption of the field was coming. Well, nothing came - the seismicity died away and no eruption came.
As it turns out, a new study by John Pallister (USGS) and others in Nature Geosciences supports the idea that the activity at Harrat Lunayyir was an eruption that couldn't quite make it to the surface. Based on seismic data and deformation data from satellites, they determined that magma rose as close as 2 km from the surface - but rather than erupting, it stalled in the crust forming a sill of likely basaltic lava. The activity did produce a 8-km long fissure through the region, which might have been the vent if the magma made it to the surface, but it didn't and we are left with this "near miss" (or as Ralph from the Volcanism Blog puts it, "successful intrusion"). Events like this are likely occurring much more often than we have previously realized, but only with constant surveillance allowed by networks of seismometers and satellites are we beginning to notice - similar to the "bulge" on South Sister in Oregon noticed in 2002.
What this study does emphasize is the real volcanic threat that exists in Saudi Arabia. The Harrat Lunayyir volcanic field is only one of a number of recent (geologically) volcanic features in Saudi Arabia. Most of this volcanism is likely related to the rifting in the Red Sea - and thus mostly takes the form of basaltic lava flows and scoria cones - so the overall hazard to life is relatively low. However, this recent seismicity at Harrat Lunayyir shows that we should expect an eruption at some point in the foreseeable future on the Arabian Peninsula.
Top Left: A NASA Image of the Harrat Lunayyir volcanic field in Saudi Arabia. Click on the image to see a larger version.
Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.
- There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
- CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
- Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
- Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.
Protected animals are feared to be headed for the black market.
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.