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With Mauna Loa’s Eruption, a Rare Glimpse Into the Earth

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In 1963, a geophysicist named John Tuzo Wilson proposed that the islands, that are covered with layers of volcanic stone, sit above a magma plume, which forms when rock from the deep mantle bubbles up and pools below the crust. This “hot spot” continually pushes toward the surface, sometimes bursting through the tectonic plate, melting and deforming the encircling rock because it goes. The plate shifts over hundreds of thousands of years while the magma plume stays relatively still, creating latest volcanoes atop the plate and leaving inactive ones of their wake. The outcomes are archipelagoes just like the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain and parts of the Iceland Plateau.

The new spot theory gained broad consensus in the next a long time. “There isn’t any other theory that’s capable of reconcile so many observations,” said Helge Gonnermann, a volcanologist at Rice University.

Some confirming observations got here relatively recently, within the 2000s, after scientists began placing seismometers, which measure terrestrial energy waves, on the ocean floor. John Orcutt, a geophysicist on the University of California, San Diego, who helped lead that research, said that the seismometers had provided an X-ray of the magma plume rising beneath Hawaii. The instruments were capable of accurately read the direction and speed of the magma’s flow; the outcomes pointed resoundingly toward the presence of a hot spot.

This hot spot has probably been fomenting volcanic activity for tens of hundreds of thousands of years, even though it arrived in its current position under Mauna Loa only about 600,000 years ago. And so long as it stays there, Dr. Orcutt said, it is going to reliably produce volcanic activity. “Few things on Earth are so predictable,” he added.

Closer to the surface, predicting when, where and the way intense these eruptions will probably be becomes harder, despite the profusion of seismometers and satellite sensors. “The deeper you go, the more smooth the behavior gets,” Dr. Orcutt said. “By the point you get this interface between rock and molten rock and the ocean, the magma tends to come back out sporadically.”

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