A team of scientists has discovered what they call a “mass of warm rock” in northern New England, rising underneath an area that covers New Hampshire and Vermont. And while this mass could lead to a catastrophic volcanic eruption, the researchers believe that such an event won’t happen until several million years from now.
Although it was late last month when the researchers behind the new discovery issued a press release on their findings in Rutgers Today, news of the large mass only received significant coverage this week, with the team gathering data from the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope program. According to Patch, EarthScope spent the last two years placing seismic measurement tools across the U.S., in an effort to understand how North America evolved and was formed, and monitor the processes behind earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
In the Rutgers Today press release, lead author Vadim Levin, a geophysicist and professor at Rutgers’ Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, compared the mass of warm rock to a hot air balloon and concluded that there may be “something rising up” beneath New England, even if may be small in comparison to what had driven the super-eruptions at Yellowstone National Park thousands of years ago.
“It is not Yellowstone-like, but it’s a distant relative in the sense that something relatively small – no more than a couple hundred miles across – is happening.”
As Rutgers Today further noted, lead author Levin specializes in the study of seismic waves, or the vibrations that are spread across the planet in the aftermath of an earthquake. These waves show the shape of objects, offer clues regarding their texture, and reveal other forms of information that essentially offer a sneak peek at Earth’s interior. For the purpose of their study, Levin’s team centered on New England, which is where scientists first took note of the “area of great warmth” found in Earth’s upper mantle; specifically, this area is believed to be hundreds of degrees Celsius warmer than surrounding areas.
“We’re interested in what happens at the interface between tectonic plates – thick, solid parts that cover our planet – and material in the upper mantle beneath the plates,” Levin commented.
“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.”
Based on what he and his team discovered, Levin believes the upwelling in New England’s “mass of warm rock” is primarily in central Vermont and western New Hampshire. But he added that some other parts of New England, such as western Massachusetts, may also be included. There are other areas in the region where the mass may be present, but Levin noted that the findings were only based on existing seismic observations. He explained that this part of North America is now a “passive margin” after close to 200 million years without “intense” geological activity, meaning a region where surface erosion and a gradual loss of heat are relatively commonplace.
“We did not expect to find abrupt changes in physical properties beneath this region, and the likely explanation points to a much more dynamic regime underneath this old, geologically quiet area,” Levin continued.
Going forward, Levin added that his team’s next step will be to further understand why such large masses of rock actually form, considering that it may be “millions of years” before the upwelling “gets where it’s going.”