Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprise Volcano Growing under New Zealand. How Was It Found?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Surprise Volcano Growing under New Zealand. How Was It Found?

Article excerpt

Beneath Matata, a small coastal town 125 miles from Auckland, on New Zealand's North Island, scientists recently discovered a massive magma build-up, possibly signaling the beginnings of a new volcano.

But oddly, this magma chamber is nowhere near an active volcano.

According to geophysicist Ian Hamling, since 1950 an incredible influx of magma - enough to fill 80,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools - has accumulated beneath the small New Zealand town, pushing up the surface of the ground by 40 cm (16 inches).

In a paper published Saturday in the online journal, Science Advances, Mr. Hamling describes discovering the enormous magma chamber as, "quite a big surprise," stating that while New Zealand contains a great deal of volcanic activity, it is unusual to find a developing chamber of magma so far removed from any active volcanos.

Hamling and his team had been studying the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), which runs down the center of New Zealand's North Island and has seen 25 large-scale volcanic eruptions in the past 1.6 million years and currently is home to many spectacular volcanic features such as bubbling hot pots and frequent eruptions at Whakaari - a small active volcano 30 miles from the east coast of the North Island.

The team's focus was on ground motions throughout the TVZ, searching for volcanic activity in an area that had been believed to be subsiding because of magma draining from an underground chamber. However, shifting the examination, the team discovered the ground beneath Matata, a town with a population of 650 people, had been rising yearly since 1950 and the rate of increase had been growing substantially through the beginning to mid-2000s, triggering thousands of small earthquakes initially believed to be associated with tectonic shifts.

Utilizing satellite data, Hamling and his team were able to follow the development of minor ground shifts, measuring minute horizontal and vertical changes in the coastal land levels, demonstrating the shifting nature of subsurface magma within the TVZ. …

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