Volcanic system super-eruptions occur about every 100,000 years. The Yellowstone one was about 2,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Scientists are trying to understand the factors that influence these eruptions.
(PHYSORG)- The "super-eruption" of a major volcanic system occurs about every 100,000 years and is considered one of the most catastrophic natural events on Earth, yet scientists have long been unsure about what triggers these violent explosions.
However, a new model presented this week by researchers at Oregon State University points to a combination of temperature influence and the geometrical configuration of the magma chamber as a potential cause for these super-eruptions.
Results of the research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, were presented at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, Minn.
Patricia "Trish" Gregg, a post-doctoral researcher at OSU and lead author on the modeling study, says the creation of a ductile halo of rock around the magma chamber allows the pressure to build over tens of thousands of years, resulting in extensive uplifting in the roof above the magma chamber. Eventually, faults from above trigger a collapse of the caldera and subsequent eruption.
"You can compare it to cracks forming on the top of baking bread as it expands," said Gregg, a researcher in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. "As the magma chamber pressurizes at depth, cracks form at the surface to accommodate the doming and expansion. Eventually, the cracks grow in size and propagate downward toward the magma chamber.
"In the case of very large volcanoes, when the cracks penetrate deep enough, they can rupture the magma chamber wall and trigger roof collapse and eruption," Gregg added.
The eruption of super-volcanoes dwarfs the eruptions of recent volcanoes and can trigger planetary climate change by inducing Ice Ages and other impacts. One such event was the Huckleberry Ridge eruption of present-day Yellowstone Park about two million years ago, which was more than 2,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington.