New research by a team of US and UK scientists into volcanoes has found that they function in a far more complex way than previously thought, making future eruptions even harder to predict.
© iStockphoto/Sean HannahPyroclastic flow across old city of Plymouth from the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean.
Although the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat exhibits cycles of eruption and quiet, the international team of researchers found that magma is continuously supplied from deep in the crust but that a valve acts below a shallower magma chamber, releasing lava to the surface periodically.
"Continuous records of surface deformation are available for only a few volcanoes," says Derek Elsworth, professor of energy and geo-environmental engineering, Penn State. "The Soufrière Hills volcano has been erupting since 1995 and provides a peek into the processes occurring deep beneath this stratovolcano."
Stratovolcanoes are one of the most common forms of volcano on Earth. They are cone-shaped with steep sides created by episodic eruptions of magma that flow down from the cone a short way and create layer upon layer of volcanic material.