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Mono Lake: Lake and Craters Above Magma, 3D Close-Up

Oct 29, 2015 06:06 PM EDT
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There is now a way to look at the system of magma below Mono Lake and Mono Craters, eastern California's strange and unusual formations of tufa. With this system, scientists can gather a better inkling of the volcanic processes beneath the area, and forecast future geological unrest, according to a release.

Mono Craters, as it happens, is considered among the country's high-threat volcanoes. The area's most recent eruptions were 600 years ago at Panum Crater, and roughly 350 years ago on Paoha Island, in Mono Lake's middle.

Being able to see accurate, high-res 3D images of the magma chambers and the way the volcanic processes come together below the lake will show researchers more about size and shape and future there, confirmed the release.

The U.S. Geological Survey's Jared Peacock, a post-doctoral researcher, created the new images using magnetotellurics technology, as a release confirmed. This is a system that detects and measures tiny electrical currents from the Earth's magnetic field's ions moving. One example of such movement is the Aurora Borealis. Basically, these currents of electricity flow based on rock composition and various properties. So, more compacted, dense rocks resist electricity more, but broken rocks with groundwater or hydrothermal fluids (such as those found near volcanic activity) resist less. In even more contrast, a magma chamber filled with fluid, melted rock or a somewhat crystallized "mush" have even less resistance to flow.

In the images showing 3D levels of resistivity (the degree of resistance to electrical flow), there are a minimum of two up-and-down columns of magma, six miles deep. That's a powerful system of volcanic processes. A column beneath Panum Crater is much like a giraffe's neck in shape: it turns suddenly at a horizontal angle, which suggests that hydrothermal fluids may be near the surface. Below an area called South Coulee, another column does not indicate any recent movement near the surface, confirmed the release.

Researchers will conduct more study in the area to learn whether long-period earthquakes in the area have happened because of volcanic or metamorphic processes, said the release.

A report on the findings and the image development will be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Solid Earth.

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