New England, Vermont sitting on hot air balloon? Magma to reach surface anyday, says study

Measurements of the strength of mantle flow are shown along with the colored map of seismic wave speed at 195 kilometers (121 miles) beneath the Earth's surface, under the North American tectonic plate Vadim Levin/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

A huge mass of hot rock is bubbling beneath the surface of New England, especially Vermont, leading to the possibility of a massive volcanic eruption, suggests a new study at Rutgers University. The research has unearthed such geological facts which question the basis of textbook information about the subject.

Geologists have observed a mass of warm rock under New England, likely to rise to the surface like a hot air balloon. In the study through National Science Foundation's EarthScope program, lead author Vadim Levin, a geophysicist and professor in Rutgers University's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, says that the phenomena is not exactly like Yellowstone but can be considered its distant cousin as it spans a shorter area.

Yellowstone National Park in the US is situated atop a volcanic hot spot, with enough lava content in the ground to cause a supervolcanic eruption. The study on New England determines whether it is as risky as Yellowstone. "Our study challenges the established notion of how the continents on which we live behave. It challenges the textbook concepts taught in introductory geology classes," says Levin.

EarthScope placed thousands of seismic measurement devices 46.6 miles apart all around the US for two years. It was done to discover the structure and evolution of North America and find out how and when earthquakes and volcanic eruptions might occur.

"We want to see how North America is gliding over the deeper parts of our planet. It is a very large and relatively stable region, but we found an irregular pattern with rather abrupt changes in it," says Levin.

The study, published in the journal Geology, was mostly focused on New England as a mass of hot rocks had previously been observed in the Earth's upper mantle there. The observed area had a temperature hundreds of degrees Celsius hotter than the neighbouring regions.

Vermont Pixabay

The upwelling mass of rocks has been detected under central Vermont and western New Hampshire, along with some parts of western Massachusetts. There is a possibility that volcanic rocks are there in other regions too.

Levin has stated that this region has not experienced any tectonic activity for nearly 200 million years, but this abrupt change in physical properties points to some more mysteries in the subsurface of this quiet region.

However, there is no urgency for the researchers to find a solution to this problem as the volcanic activity might take millions of years to reach the surface and create destruction. Scientists are now focusing on the rate of volcanic activity and what else can be found under the earth's crust.

This article was first published on December 19, 2017