Drilling Gives Scientists First Look Into Magma Chamber

December 18, 2008 04:13 PM
by Denis Cummings
An accidental drilling into a magma chamber has given scientists the unprecedented opportunity to study magma in its “natural habitat.”

Magma Chamber Discovered in Hawaii

In October 2005, a power company drilling in Hawaii for sources of geothermal energy inadvertently drilled into an undisturbed magma chamber about a mile and a half below the earth’s surface. The discovery has given scientists their first look at magma before it reaches the surface and becomes known as lava.

“Magma resides inside the earth and lava is its equivalent on the surface. But once magma erupts, it begins cooling unusually quickly and it loses any gases that it may contain, so it really is a different animal,” said magma expert Bruce Marsh, professor at Johns Hopkins University. “We’ve never seen, until now, the real animal in its natural habitat. And it’s not going anywhere: it’s caged, so to speak.”

Marsh, who has been leading the exploration of the magma, announced the discovery this week at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union. He said that he hopes to turn the site into a laboratory by drilling new holes into the chamber. The process would be expensive and it is not yet certain if it will be undertaken.
Marsh and other scientists are also intrigued by the magma because it is a type known as “dacite.” The silica-rich dacite is rarely found on the Hawaiian islands, which are made up mostly of basalt.

“No dacite lava or rocks have ever been found on the Big Island of Hawaii, though some have hypothesized that basalt can transform into dacite through a form of distillation through crystallization,” said Marsh in a press release.

Dacite magma is similar to the granitic core of continents; basalt makes up the ocean floor. Study of the dacite magma chamber may explain how continental rock was formed. “Here is a small system, on a scale where we may actually be able to see it happening,” said Marsh. “This may be how it was with the initial growth of the Earth’s crust.”

Reference: Magma


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines