Nav: Home

The cozier the better for bubbles inside powerful volcanoes

April 14, 2016

How did the eruptions of Katmai, Taupo and Santorini grow into a massive blast that spewed fine ash, sulfur and crystal-poor magma into the atmosphere? New research from Georgia Institute of Technology and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETH) suggests they occurred due in part to how light vapor bubbles migrate and accumulate in some parts of shallow volcanic chambers. The findings are published online by Nature.

Volcanic chambers are a maze of crystal-rich and crystal-poor regions, especially in the last place where magma stalls and builds before eruption. The Georgia Tech-ETH team used lab experiments and computer models to focus on how bubbles move to and through these shallow reservoirs, which are typically about three to five miles below the surface.

"We know that bubbles control the style and power of eruptions, but we don't fully understand how they behave," said Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Christian Huber, a faculty member in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. "It's probably like opening a soda and watching the bubbles race to the top of the bottle."

According to their study, Huber and his colleagues believe these bubbles maneuver their way through crystal filled magma until they settle in these open-spaced reservoirs -- areas without many crystals -- and build up the necessary energy for an impending eruption.

"When we started this project, we thought that the bubbles, as they moved through compact, crystal-rich areas, would be significantly slowed down on their way to the reservoirs," said Huber. "Instead, these seem to be the best conditions for their ascent through the chamber."

The team's experiments indicate that bubbles squeeze through the narrow openings to create finger-like paths. These long paths allow the bubbles to merge and form connected pathways that transport low density vapor efficiently through the crystal-rich parts of magma chambers.

"Once they reach the end of this crystal-rich area and get more space, the water vapor fingers transform back into their usual, spherical bubble shape," said Andrea Parmigiani, who led the study during his postdoctoral work in Huber's group at Georgia Tech and in Olivier Bachmann's group at ETH. "Once vapor forms these bubbles, the ascent of the light vapor bubbles is slow and bubbles accumulate."

The team says the bubbles, once free to move around in their natural, spherical shape, settle into crystal-poor areas of the reservoir. That's where their accumulation provides additional potential energy that can drive large volcanic eruptions that release large amounts of sulfur to the atmosphere and result in voluminous crystal-poor deposits.

The Georgia Tech team also included Salah Faroughi and Yanqing Su, who are both co-authors on the paper and Ph.D. candidates in Huber's group. Faroughi's lab experiments demonstrated the accumulation of bubbles in the crystal-poor areas. Su's calculations measured sulfur releases.
The paper, "Bubble accumulation and its role in the evolution of magma reservoirs in the upper crust," was published online by Nature on April 13, 2016.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Related Sulfur Articles:

A seaweed derivative could be just what lithium-sulfur batteries need
Lithium-sulfur batteries have great potential as a low-cost, high-energy, energy source for both vehicle and grid applications.
Science fiction horror wriggles into reality with discovery of giant sulfur-powered shipworm
Our world seems to grow smaller by the day as biodiversity rapidly dwindles, but an international team of researchers discovered a never before studied giant, black, mud dwelling, worm-like animal.
Researchers develop a new way to study key biological processes
A team of scientists at The University of East Anglia (UEA) has developed a novel way to obtain previously inaccessible insight into the functions of a group of essential proteins.
New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries
Yale scientists have developed an ultra-thin coating material that has the potential to extend the life and improve the efficiency of lithium-sulfur batteries, one of the most promising areas of energy research today.
Volcano breath: Measuring sulfur dioxide from space
In a new study published in Scientific Reports this week, a team led by researchers from Michigan Technological University created the first, truly global inventory for volcanic sulfur dioxide emissions, using data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Earth Observing System Aura satellite launched in 2004.
A new approach to improving lithium-sulfur batteries
Researchers from the University of Delaware and China's Northwestern Polytechnical University, Shenzhen University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University have demonstrated a new polysulfide entrapping strategy that greatly improves the cycle stability of Li-S batteries.
Getting rid of the last bits of sulfur in fuel
A new technique could help scrub the last traces of sulfur from diesel and gas.
Looking for the next leap in rechargeable batteries
USC researchers may have just found a solution for one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the next wave of rechargeable batteries -- small enough for cellphones and powerful enough for cars.
The hidden side of sulfur
The active element in the molecule that initiates transformations in synthetic organic chemistry, known as the catalyst, is often hydrogen.
New findings boost promise of molybdenum sulfide for hydrogen catalysis
Researchers from North Carolina State University, Duke University and Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) holds more promise than previously thought as a catalyst for producing hydrogen to use as a clean energy source.

Related Sulfur Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...