Scientists have discovered a significant magma chamber near the small New Zealand town of Matata.
The magma build-up, dubbed a “zombie volcano”, could be the beginnings of a new volcano, but experts aren’t expecting an eruption anytime soon.
Since 1950, enough magma to fill 80,000 Olympic-size swimming pools has squeezed up beneath the surface.
Location maps showing the North Island of New Zealand and the study area at the northern end of the Taupo Volcanic Zone [Image: Science Advances]
The chamber’s existence explains the recent spate of earthquakes, previously attributed to tectonic shifts.
“There’s no need to panic, but chances are there are lots of bodies of magma dotted throughout the crust,” according to GMS Science geologist Ian Hamling.
“When you compare it to other places, like Yellowstone, it’s smaller than that. But it’s still pretty significant.”
Hamling doesn’t expect the volcano to form within our lifetime, but his team are planning further studies to the development of a warning system for earthquakes in the area.
Contained deep within the Earth, volcanos are vents where molten rock, debris, and gases from the planet's interior are emitted.
When thick magma and gas build up under the surface, volcanoes expel lava, rocks and ash into the air. The mountain-like mounds that we associate with volcanoes are what remains after material spewed during eruptions has hardened around the vent.
A large eruption can be extremely dangerous for people living near a volcano. Flows of searing lava can reach 1,250 degrees or more, burning everything in its path, including humans and entire towns. Ash and toxic gases can cause lung damage and other problems.
It’s estimated that more than 260,000 people have died in the past 300 years from volcanic eruptions and their aftermath.
About 1,900 volcanoes on Earth are considered active, meaning they show some level of activity and are likely to explode again. Many other volcanoes are dormant, showing no current signs of exploding but likely to become active at some point in the future. Others are considered extinct.