Mystery of birth of 'world's most active volcano' could be solved

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·2 min read
Puu Oo, the easternmost of Kilauea's craters, spews molten lava.
Puu Oo, the easternmost of Kilauea's craters, spews molten lava. (Getty)

A new study has shone light on the origins of a volcano that spewed billions of tons of molten rock in 2018 and is often described as the "world’s most active".

Researchers at Monash University in Australia have described what may have triggered the birth of Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in Hawaii.

Located along the southeastern shore of Hawaii, Kilauea is estimated to be between 210,000 and 280,000 years old and to have emerged above sea level approximately 100,000 years ago.

Kilauea is Hawaiian for 'spewing' or 'much spreading' and refers to the constant flow of lava.

Dr Laura Miller, from the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University, has shown for the first time that Hawaiian volcanoes were born from magmas that evolved in an unusually deep magma chamber 55 miles down.

A magma chamber is a large pool of liquid rock beneath the surface of the Earth.

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"We obtained some of the very first volcanic products erupted by Kilauea," Miller said.

"We explored the formation of these samples through experimental work, which involved melting synthetic rocks at high temperatures – greater than 1100 Celsius – and pressures, and by using a new method for modelling their rare earth element concentrations.

"We found that the samples could only be formed by the crystallisation and removal – or fractional crystallisation – of garnet."

The Kilauea caldera in Hawaii. (Getty)
The Kilauea caldera in Hawaii. (Getty)

"Our study demonstrates unambiguously the role of garnet crystallisation in the formation of pre-shield stage Hawaiian melts," Miller added.

"This challenges the current viewpoint that fractional crystallisation is solely a shallow process and suggests that the development of a deep magma chamber is an important early stage in the birth of a Hawaiian volcano."

In 2018, Kilauea spewed billions of tons of molten rock in an eruption that destroyed hundreds of homes and at one point boiled a lake away to nothing.

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The eruption was the most destructive in the United States since at least the violent 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, according to geologist Scott Rowland, a volcanologist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Hawaii's Kilauea's volcano produced extremely hot and relatively slow moving lava flows, which engulfed hundreds of structures but allowed people to evacuate.

The Mount St. Helens eruption also ejected pyroclastic flows, which reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland, and killed nearly 60 people and thousands of animals.

The Hawaii eruption, with high walls of slow-moving lava, engulfed hundreds of homes.

Watch: Kilauea erupting steady stream of lava in May 2022

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