New England isn’t an area known for volcanic activity. However, this may change due to a bubble of hot rock rising under the surface.
Will the Appalachian Mountains have a volcano among them after millions of years?
Having a volcano in New England seems almost unbelievable. For one thing, the region’s mountains aren’t that tall, especially compared to other mountain ranges. There are also hardly ever any earthquakes. The area doesn’t get much geologic activity, at least none significant enough to be remarkable.
At least, that’s what people thought. As it turns out, the ground underneath New England is more geologically active than people thought it was. The area is possibly sitting atop an enormous bubble of warm rock, which is essentially a beta version of magma pockets in volcanic regions. Thus, there is no volcano underneath New England—yet.
Interestingly, just a decade ago, it would have been impossible to gain this information. Researchers have detailed their findings in a new study published in Geology.
An engineer tinkers around a Transportable Array station vault. [Photo by USArray]
We have an extremely hot, volatile core nestled deep inside our planet. Of course, that heat has to go somewhere. It therefore sometimes rises up to the mantle, the layer of the Earth just underneath the crust. When the heat from the core reaches the mantle, it makes the tectonic plates move and slide, causing what we recognize as seismic activity.
We don’t actually have the tools and equipment to be able to directly observe what goes on deep underneath the surface of the planet. However, scientists can make conclusions using the seismic vibrations that Earth produces. The speed of these vibrations, for example, can help scientists gather information about the Earth’s mantle, which they can’t directly observe.
Researchers at Rutgers University and Yale University were using an array of seismic sensors, called the Transportable Array, when they made the unexpected discovery of warm rock under New England. The array has been traveling around the United States since 2007, observing what seismic waves are like in different parts of the country. The researchers found evidence indicating that there is swelling rock underneath the Appalachian Mountains, which could in turn indicate that there is a new volcano forming in the area.
The New England area will be safe from volcanic activity for millions of years yet.
So should New England residents panic? Not just yet. The formation of a new volcano in the area is just a possibility according to the findings. However, what is certain is that New England isn’t as geologically serene as people think.
“Our study challenges the established notion of how the continents on which we live behave,” says Vadim Levin, the study’s lead author. “It challenges the textbook concepts taught in introductory geology classes.”
Levin thinks that if an eruption is bound to happen, it actually won’t for millions of years yet. Even so, the researchers definitely didn’t expect to make this kind of discovery. Apparently, the Atlantic margin didn’t experience significant seismic activity for about 200 million years. This has resulted in a passive margin, which refers to an area in which the lack of geological activity has lead to a loss of heat. Researchers are now planning to find out how this passive margin started becoming more active. Of course, it doesn’t seem like there’s any rush.
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