Don’t be fooled by appearances, the Mediterranean Sea moves more than it seems. A study reveals that an underwater volcano is accumulating a large reserve of magma. It could give rise to a massive and devastating eruption.
Renowned for its calm and blue waters, the Mediterranean Sea hides its game well. A real tectonic puzzle, the big blue has many volcanoes and is closely watched. At the boundary between two plates, it is experiencing significant seismic activity, particularly on its eastern side. The Minoan eruption, the violent eruption of the Santorini volcano, moreover changed the course of history.
Near this island, there is notably an underwater volcano called Kolumbo. The latter is under increased scrutiny by scientists, as it is considered one of the most active underwater volcanoes in the world. It would also be the most active in the Mediterranean, while its last eruption dates back to the year 1650. A study published by the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, reveals that the previously undetected magma chamber is filling with magma. The volume would also be close to reaching that which would have caused the famous eruption in 1650.
The increase in the amount of magma raises fears of a new eruption within 150 years. Indeed, the author of the study Kajetan Chrapkiewicz, a geophysicist at Imperial College London, specifies that the volume of magma could reach around 2 km³ in the next 150 years. This is the estimated amount of magma that Kolumbo released almost 400 years ago. The magmatic reservoir, located under the volcano, would reach 1.4 km³ today.
The Mediterranean lives under the threat of a devastating eruption
For now, however, it is impossible to know precisely when the Kolumbo will erupt. Researchers warn of the dangerousness of the explosive eruptions of Kolumbo, but indicate that the danger “does not seem imminent”. An eruption could notably produce a tsunami, or even significant ash fallout.
The study shows how important it is to closely monitor these submarine volcanoes, as it is possible to predict – to some extent – volcanic eruptions. However, experts must have enough data on the movement of magma under the volcano.
Today, these submarine volcanoes are not as well monitored as their aboveground counterparts. Indeed, the various monitoring instruments such as seabed seismometers are more difficult to set up. As a result, there are fewer of them and scientists have less data on these dangerous volcanoes. To remedy this, a team of scientists has been working on the project for several years. SANTORY.
In Kolumbo’s case, the researchers got around the problem by trying a different technique, as detailed Live Science. This method called full waveform inversion is “similar to a medical ultrasound”, noted Michele Paulatto, study co-author and volcanologist at Imperial College London. “She uses sound waves to construct an image of the subterranean structure of a volcano”he adds.