NZ geologist finds large seismic event triggered Taupo super-volcano eruption

April 21, 2012NEW ZEALANDOne of the most intriguing unsolved cases for New Zealand geologists is the ancient Taupo super-eruption. Victoria University PhD student Aidan Allan has found new evidence that explains how and why the volcano blew. While the general public is fascinated by the magnitude – the event buried the North Island in debris, with the ash cloud all the way to the Chathams – geologists’ interest lies elsewhere. They are intrigued because the eruption’s cause isn’t open-and-shut – while most super-volcanoes simply explode, with Taupo there was a short hiatus just as things got underway. “There were breaks of weeks to months [in the early stages] and then all hell breaks loose,” Mr. Allan said. As geologists worldwide have to make the life-or-death call as to when an eruption has ended, it’s crucial to know why this super-volcano acted the way it did. The event began in standard fashion, at least in super-volcano terms, with a massive 530sq km pool of magma building up below the surface, under more and more pressure. As the two pools of magma were physically separated by 15km of rock, Mr. Allan suspected a major tectonic force had shifted the magma from the northeast site to the vents of the Taupo super-volcano. With layer upon layer of chemical evidence confirming the presence of two types of magma, it seems he’d found a potential suspect for the mysterious halting of the super-eruption. Caught at the scene of the crime, tectonic forces were now the prime suspect. Today, with both systems believed to be dormant, the forces that caused such problems are no longer suspect, and it’s the profile of the event that’s the most relevant. Super-eruptions are caused by the pooling of magma under the surface with no available domes or vents to release tension. Pressure builds to a saturation point, triggering explosive eruptions thousands of times more powerful than standard eruptions. Super-volcanoes collapse into calderas, where the ground falls into the space left by the erupted magma. Lake Taupo and Lake Rotorua are both calderas. –Stuff
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16 Responses to NZ geologist finds large seismic event triggered Taupo super-volcano eruption

  1. nickk0 says:

    It is somewhat of a relief, to read that geologists don’t see a reason to believe this caldera is currently ‘active’.
    Granted, there are still several other ‘active’ caldera sites to keep an eye on, but this is one less to worry about- For whatever it’s worth.

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    • Bill H says:

      No Volcano is truly extinct.. it is a weak spot in the surface of the earths crust.. Look at Yellowstone. it has erupted over 100 times that we can verify..

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    • Tom says:

      I know this an old article however, I have just been to a lecture at Victoria University, in Wellington NZ, where a leading volcanologist stated that Taupo is still active. At the time of this article, Taupo may have been considered dormant.

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  2. Bundy says:

    Alvin could you please do a little investigating for us here in New Zealand please,as there has been several earthquakes around Taupo just recently,including a 5 a few days ago,and some more just today.This started happening a few weeks back,but its not decreasing.The quakes can be found on Geonet.

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  3. Stan Deyo had a vision-dream some time ago about this volcano coming to life. The story is on his website.

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  4. Frank says:

    those that are known to be active is yellowstone, a area in bolivia ( posted here a few months back ) and 1 in germany ( correct me on this 1 was posted here aswell. )

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    • Im
      Super-volcanoes

      Tambora (though not a super-volcano) is a concern as it Yellowstone, Long Valley and super-volcano calderas in regions right now experincing high levels of seismicity including Lake Toba in Indonesia and the Aira caldera near Kyūshū, Japan. The Earth is more likely to create a new super-volcano in a critical thermal crisis than sometimes reactivate an old sleeping one so no one should be popping on a Sinatra record and bringing out the champagne just yet from this news. An example of this is Uturuncu in Boliva which is experiencing accelerated inflation, as is Santorini. I also suspect there may be at least 6 or so super-volcanoes fermenting under the oceans that we have no knowledge of yet. The Campi Flegrei super-volcano is mostly submerged, as you know, off the coast of Italy. I’m not trying to scare anyone. I’m just saying the Earth is very unpredictable.

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  5. Bundy says:

    This is Geonets site.Also Alvin do you think the other quakes nearby could be related to Taupo,as we are a very small country,could it be a sign of magma on the move? http://www.geonet.org.nz/earthquake/quakes/recent_quakes.html

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  6. Emand. says:

    Their are hot sands on the shore of lake Taupo just near the town of Taupo, you can burn yourself if you are not careful. I Would say it is type of diversion to say that the Taupo Caldera is not currently active. The Taupo Caldera could erupt at any time, and it had many many times throughout history not just once. The entire central platau of the NZ north island is one great active volcanic bulge. And yes over the past year or so there have been lots of deep over 5 magnitude quakes in the area of lake Taupo, and many shallow quakes still taking place to this day. Mt Tawarera as far as I am aware was not even known to be an active volcano9Long term dormant) when it violently blew its top all of a sudden. http://www.geonet.org.nz/
    Two quakes today in the Taupo vicinity. It has really picked up in the last year or two.

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  7. Lorne says:

    This may be a stupid question but here goes anyway. So the pressure builds up in a Volcano and we wait for the big eruption. What if we used drones to drop bunker busting bombs on these active Volcano’s to relieve some of the pressure causing more small eruptions instead of waiting for the big one. 50+ Active Volcano’s and 7500 eathquakes in the last 30 days.

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    • Img
      Darvaza gas crater in Turkmenistan is still burning and expanding since the 1970’s

      I think its fool-hardy to even consider such an undertaking. One, we don’t always know where the pressure is and two, once you open a pressure value on a naturally pressurized reservoir; they’re almost impossible to reseal. Besides Yellowstone’s caldera chamber is believed to run 400 miles deep into the mantle- the amount of earth that has to collapse in fire to plug one of these plumes defies imagination. During the 1970s, when Turkmenistan was part of the USSR, Soviet geologists were sent into the desert to explore for natural gas, which can often be detected seeping through the sand. While drilling in one such spot, the geologists happened upon a large, cavernous space full of poisonous gas which promptly swallowed their equipment. Hoping to burn off the excess gas, perhaps to make it possible to descend into the crater, the geologists set it ablaze–and 35 years later, it’s still burning. Underground coal fires are also impossible to extinguish. They’re also burning underground in every country including the U.S., India, China and Russia. Ths story has been repeated all over the world, including Centralia, Pa where an underground coal fire has created another ghost town.

      The Lusi mud volcano was another volcano that was cracked opened up by a gas drilling project in Indonesia. It has swallowed one entire village and is still erupting and is beyond being plugged. These are the hazzards of man tampering with forces under the ground and how easily the situation can spin out of control.

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      • sentientstorm says:

        “Besides Yellowstone’s caldera chamber is believed to run 400 miles deep into the mantle- the amount of earth that has to collapse in fire to plug one of these plumes defies imagination.”

        Actually the magma chamber is a u-shaped feature beneath Yellowstone that occupies from 3.7 to 10 miles below ground surface… and not all of the magma in that chamber is “eruptable”, just a cross section of the surface. The rest, at depth, is a mix of melt and semi-melted rock that is considered un-eruptable.

        The Snake River plume is what extends from about 90 miles, to a depth of 410 miles. Fortunately none of the Snake River plume itself is considered “eruptable”. However that plume does feed the magma chamber(s).

        That u-shaped magma chamber immediately below ground surface (and over-exaggerated on the scale seen) is represented in the Flash animation “go below Yellowstone”, below.

        Ref: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/08/yellowstone/yellowstone-interactive

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      • Kim in Oz says:

        Wow… that sure answers that question. Very interesting!

        Like

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