Huge volcano dormant for 800 years ‘appears to be waking up’, say scientists

Activity has been detected under a huge volcano that has been inactive for at least 800 years.

Mount Edgecumbe in Alaska, US, has had a series of earthquakes recently which has led scientists to believe that the sleeping giant may be waking up again.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has carried out research using satellite imagery and mathematical modelling to discover the recent activity has been caused by the thrust of moving magma deep under the earth’s surface.

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With 800 years of no seismic activity, this Mount Edgecumbe had been declared dormant. However, this new research suggests there could be potential for more volcanic activity soon.

David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford told Newsweek: "When magma is moving, it may either force its way along cracks, or form an expanding pool of melt at depth, and both of these processes can cause small earthquakes,”

"Seismometers can detect very small tremors and earthquakes—much smaller than would be perceptible to a human. If we have an array of seismometers placed around a volcano, we can use the earthquake signals to locate the place where the earthquakes are being triggered.”

As magma pushes its way up towards the surface, it also causes the earth above it to bulge, like a stretching balloon.”

Scientists have said not to worry, however, as the current technology is used frequently and efficiently. Any changes would be detected in enough time to ensure safety.

“Satellite radar instruments are a really important tool for volcano monitoring. They can measure very small changes in the shape of the Earth's surface," Pyle said.

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The US has more volcanoes than any other country in the world, with a whopping 161 potentially active.

While Mount Edgecumbe is said to have been active 800 years ago, geological evidence suggests that the last major eruption was around 4,500 years ago, making it “dormant”.

"'Dormant' is a word that is often used to describe volcanoes that haven't erupted for decades or centuries, and perhaps look completely quiet. But the implication is that dormant volcanoes might erupt again," Pyle said.

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The recent rise in volcanic activity does not mean the volcano will erupt anytime soon.

"Detecting magma movement at depth is usually a reminder that a volcano is active, or potentially active, but it isn't necessarily a sign that a volcano will erupt," Pyle said.

"In the past 20 years, there have been many examples where scientists have used [satellite imagery and seismic activity] together to watch new magma arrive beneath a volcano. And in most of these cases, the disturbance quietens down after a few weeks or months, with no eruption."


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