Surprise ‘Zombie Volcano’ Discovered Slowly Growing Beneath New Zealand

Geologists in New Zealand have discovered a “zombie volcano” growing underground off of one of the islands. The new volcano was discovered on June 3 and is causing a stir across New Zealand, according to Science Mic. The zombie volcanoes are dubbed so because it is a magma chamber that shows signs of life when they should be dead.

Ian Hamling, a geophysicist at GNS Science in Lower Hutt, New Zealand, and lead author of the study said residents do not need to move yet and that pockets of magma are often found along the earth’s crust.

“There’s no need to panic, but chances are there are lots of bodies of magma dotted throughout the crust,” he said.

The New Zealand zombie volcano discovery showcases the complex underground patterns that molten rock can form and that such patterns and pockets do not indicate that an eruption is imminent.

The magma chamber is not under New Zealand’s most active volcanoes but is off to the side. It is also rising at a time when the rest of the volcanoes in New Zealand are sinking, according to Nature.

A 2015 study found that the main Taupo Volcanic Zone was subsiding as eruptions drain magma from the underground chamber. Hamling previously noticed that the area where the zombie volcano has been discovered, along the Bay of Plenty, was rising but did not think anything of it.

“I just discounted it at the time, because we were so focused on looking at the more volcanic part,” said Hamling.

When the team revisited the area and researched data dating back to 1950, they noted that the ground had risen by 5 millimeters per year in the 1950s and that the rate had more than doubled to about 12 millimeters a year starting in the mid-2000s. Based on this growth size, the team studying the area have estimated that 9 million cubic meters of magma bubbles about 10 kilometers beneath the zombie volcano. That is enough to fill 80,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, but Hamling says this in not the biggest one he has seen.

“When you compare it to other places, like Yellowstone, we’re smaller than that…But it’s still pretty significant.”

He also said that the magma is far enough underground, 10 kilometers, that it would not develop or erupt in his lifetime, and may not ever, according to Pulse Headlines.

“The phenomenon has two possible scenarios, a volcano could develop over hundreds or thousands of years, or the magma could eventually cool and harden,” he said.

This is not the first zombie volcano to be found. Matthew Pritchard, a geophysicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, coined the term and says that magma is pushing up the Earth’s crust globally and that scientists are only taking notice now due to sharp vision of new radar satellites. Prtichard noted that zombie volcanoes have also been found in the central Andes.

“Not to be too glib, but we are not undergoing a zombie-volcano invasion,” Pritchard said.

Although zombie volcanoes are not uncommon or a phenomenon to worry about, the one found in New Zealand could be the cause of the recent earthquakes. Hamling said his team recorded a period of quick uplift between 2004 and 2011 that likely triggered thousands of small earthquakes, not shifts in the tectonic plates as previously thought.

Researchers on the project hope that this new finding will help develop a warning system for future earthquakes, although they are having some difficulty studying the molten chamber in New Zealand as half of the surveyed area is offshore and underwater.

New Zealand’s North Island is no stranger to volcanic activity and has seen 25 enormous eruptions in the past 1.6 million years. The volcanoes are not all bad news, though, as they are one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Islands. Today, New Zealand is home to spectacular volcanic features including the bubbling hot pots of Rotorua and frequent eruptions at Whakaari. The most recent eruption at Whakaari was in April, according to Scientific American.

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