Magma – molten, pressurized rock that moves beneath our Earth’s crust – travels through channels which scientists from the U of R describe as “plumbing,” and by studying and understanding the map of these plumbing pipes, we may someday be able to accurately predict where the next volcanic eruption or earthquake might happen. That’s the focus of research done in the two spots where the mid-oceanic ridge system reaches dry land, where such studies are considerably easier.
The mid-oceanic ridge system is the (mostly) underwater series of ridges, mountains and volcanoes that are formed by the push and pull of tectonic plates on the surface of the Earth. Part of this system is the Ring of Fire, famed for volcanic activity. But beneath all that volcanic activity are channels of magma flowing from high to low pressure areas. When that flow is just right, it forces itself up and the result is a volcanic eruption or an earthquake or both. U of R researchers joined an international team to explore and understand these channels:
By analyzing images taken by the European Space Agency satellite Envisat, scientists were able to measure how the ground moved before, during, and after eruptions. Also, Ebinger and Manahloh Belachew, also from the University of Rochester, operated an array of seismographs that provided the depth and detailed time control to gauge the fracturing of the earth and the flow of magma from multiple eruptions in Afar. Using these data, the international team built and tested computer models to find out how rifting occurs.