Understanding volcano tectonic links

Volcanic eruptions are an ever-present hazard facing society both in terms of their immediate devastation, but also global disruption to flights, trade and economic development.

Investigating volcanoes in Chile

Petrologists, like Dr Katy Chamberlain, study the volcanic rocks and their crystals from past eruptions and link them to magmatic processes, to allow future episodes of unrest at volcanoes to be interpreted.

However, using geophysical models to determine the amount of stress built up along the boundaries of tectonic plates to examine what is happening below the earth’s surface and trying to predict an eruption is challenging.

International experts have established a group to work on a NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funded project (led by the University of Derby) to undertake preliminary investigations at key volcanoes in Chile. The aim of the project is to establish a series of crustal stress-magmatism archetypes to be tested and applied at volcanic arcs worldwide. There is potential that in the future, timescales between unrest and eruption at poorly-monitored volcanoes could be better anticipated based on volcanism-stress archetypes coupled with remote observations of upper crustal stress states.

Volcano magma

Examining crystals

In February 2019, Dr Katy Chamberlain, Lecturer in Geoscience, started a three-week fieldtrip in southern Chile to visit and sample the target volcanoes and discuss the project with our Chilean partner, Dr Luis Lara.

Upon returning to the UK the samples were prepared for petrological analysis at the University of Derby and the University of Leeds, with Co-I Dr Dan Morgan. The crystals extracted from the volcanic rocks are like magmatic ‘black boxes’ which can record their sub-surface history. The zoning present in the crystals allowed the team to start interpreting how long it took magma to accumulate in the crust and then eventually ascend and erupt.

Magma melting out of the ground

New insights into magma stress

The next step of this funded project is to integrate petrological constraints on magmatic processes with inferences of crustal stress state in collaboration with partners in Chile and Germany. Use of analogue models of magmatic ascent can help to align petrology with geophysical constraints on magmatic stress state. The discussion of results will take place with Dr. Eleonora Rivalta at GFZ-Potsdam, an expert in modelling of magmatic ascent, and will aim to unify these to-date separate fields of volcano research.

This project is a ‘seedcorn’ grant and aims to ask more questions than it answers to help develop new research projects. By beginning the process of integrating geophysics and petrology in Chile, this project will yield new insights into magma-stress relationships upon which future studies both within more varied geological settings in Chile and at arcs worldwide, will be based. The results of this project will allow more detailed research questions to be framed, especially regarding the timescales between magmatic priming and eruption for volcanoes in specific stress regimes.

coastal scenery in Ghana

Environmental Sustainability Research Centre

We provide students, academics, government agencies, industry and business with exciting opportunities to contribute to urgent global challenges in climate change and sustainable development.

Find out more about our Environmental Sustainability Research CentreFind out more about our Environmental Sustainability Research Centre