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“Great” headlines attack!

Today: Giant blobs of science "journalism" found on the interweb!

nAfrica is threatened by “scorching hot blobs of magma” according to the CSM.


Nothing like some fabulous headlines to make your day.


The first (courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor)
nMassive blob of scorching magma discovered under southern Africa


Oh my! Yes, again, it seems that the many people in the media seem to be very confused about the nature of magma when it is underground – always expecting giant vats of swirling, molten magma rising up to destroy us all. Very few have a good sense of the real state of the Earth’s mantle – mostly solid. The article is in fact about a recent study that shows evidence of a mantle plume underneath southern Africa. Now, a mantle plume isn’t magma as such – it is just hotter, rising mantle material that melts through decompression generation small amounts of melt … but are not “hot, gushy gunk” as the Livescience article on the plume suggests either. Of course, the original source article in Geophysical Research Letters, titled “A narrow, mid-mantle plume below southern Africa” (Sun et al., 2010, GRL, 37, L09302, doi:10.1029/2009GL042339) doesn’t exactly make things clear to the layman when the article starts with “new waveform tomographic evidence displays a narrow plume-like feature emitting from the top of the large African low-velocity structure in the lower mantle.” The mid-mantle plume itself is potentially linked to the rifting of Africa along the East African Rift, but it appears that the main point of the article is that the researchers were able to visualize (using seismic data) a 150 km diameter plume in the mid mantle under southern Africa – but that was before the usual game of telephone that many of these scientific article face when they are released.

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The second headline (courtesy of
nAnother Volcano Erupts; Will It Be Eyjafjallajokull Part Two?


Ah yes, now that we’ve had one once-in-a-lifetime eruption like Eyjafjallajökull, now every eruption will disrupt air travel for the planet. Guess what eruption this article mentions? Shiveluch in Kamchatka – a volcano in an almost constant state of eruption. And heck, we even have a benchmark for how a Far Eastern Russian eruption can effect air travel – and it ain’t no Eyjafjallajökull. In fact, Russian officials have been clear to say that an eruption of Shiveluch is not likely to affect air travel. The article is full of “useful” information like “Since it became active again, Shiveluch’s crater has increased by 50% and its slopes have become perilously steep”, which actually offers us no real useful data for understanding what is going on now at the volcano – is this different than usual? What does an “increasing” crater mean? The slopes are “perilously steep” for what? You get the idea. I wonder how long it will be until every volcanic eruption isn’t couched in the context of the Eyjafjallajökull event.


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