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Lava study helps scientists understand Kilauea's eruptions

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:13 a.m. HST, May 07, 2014

KAILUA-KONA >> A new study of magma from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano helps scientists understand why some eruptions are more explosive than others.

The research for the study was done by University of Hawaii professor Bruce Houghton, Hawaii Volcano Observatory's Don Swanson and scientists from the University of Cambridge, West Hawaii Today reported. The study was recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Houghton and his colleagues examined lava from 25 Kilauea eruptions over the past 600 years.

Researchers found tiny portions of molten rock trapped in crystals in the cooled lava. The crystals can be looked at as tiny jars with sealed lids, according to Houghton.

"Some of the time, it's as though the lid isn't perfect," Houghton said. That condition allows some of the trapped gas in the magma to escape, he said.

The molten rock tries to reach conditions on the outside, causing some gases to leak, according to Houghton.

He said scientists analyzing the crystals found that the amount of gas leakage is proportional to the speed molten rock comes to the surface.

Incidents involving magma with more gas and a quicker surfacing are likelier to end in an explosive eruption, researchers learned.

"That gas that's left powers the powerful explosions," Houghton said.

Houghton said scientists are trying to detect more accurately where magma is moving and how -- one step in finding those quickly moving flows.

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cojef wrote:
Pele will do as she pleases, as she has done so over the millions of years.
on May 7,2014 | 10:20AM
HanabataDays wrote:
It seems like something got lost in boiling the science down for this article. It leaves the impression that there's crystals like "tiny jars" that have molten rock still trapped in them from up to 600 years ago, which clearly can't be the case. Anything molten has long since solidified. The gases remain, however, in crystals that are sufficiently gastight. And the amounts and ratios of those gases can certainly shed light on the eruptions that produced the lava samples. Honestly, though this is great science, it seems pretty intuitive that magma with a high gas content, and which rises quickly to the surface without "resting" in a subsurface chamber and degassing, would produce more explosive eruptions.
on May 7,2014 | 10:25AM
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