KEY POINTS

  • Researchers studied volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands
  • The Wolf and Fernandina volcanoes have chemically diverse systems of magma 
  • The hidden magma systems could trigger explosive activity

A team of researchers discovered that some volcanoes that appear calm are hiding systems of magma that could trigger explosive activity. According to the researchers, their findings reveal new information about the status of monotonous volcanoes.

For the study, which was published in the journal Nature, the researchers focused on shield volcanoes located in the Galapagos archipelago. Due to the monotonous and non-active characteristics of the volcanoes, the researchers described them as boring.

After analyzing samples from the material ejected by two volcanoes in the area, namely Wolf and Fernandina, the researchers discovered a diverse chemical composition within the basaltic lava.

The researchers found that the samples contained traces of chemicals that point to the presence of a diverse system of molten rocks underneath the volcanoes. Volcanologist Michael Stock of the Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, the lead author of the study, noted that the discovery changed his perspective on the so-called boring volcanoes.

“This was really unexpected. We started the study wanting to know why these volcanoes were so boring and what process caused the erupted lava compositions to remain constant over long timescales,” Stock said in a statement. “Instead, we found that they aren't boring at all - they just hide these secret magmas under the ground.”

The researchers explained that the chemical diversity of the magma sitting underneath the Wolf and Fernandina volcanoes could lead to explosive activity. However, the team noted that it would probably take a long time for these hidden magma systems to completely change the status and activities of the volcanoes.

Study co-author Benjamin Bernard, a volcanologist at Ecuador’s Instituto Geofisico that monitors the Galapagos’ volcanoes, the discovery provides new information regarding the nature and behavior of volcanoes.

Even though a volcano has a calm exterior, it may be hiding features that could lead to an explosive eruption.

“This discovery is a game-changer because it allows us to reconcile apparently divergent observations, such as the presence of explosive deposits at several Galápagos volcanoes,” Bernard stated. “It also allows us to better understand the behavior of these volcanoes, which is essential for volcano monitoring and hazard assessment.”

Lava and smoke belches out of a volcano on Fernandina island in the Galapagos Lava and smoke belches out of a volcano on Fernandina island in the Galapagos Photo: Galapagos National Park /