Scientists from the US have found new evidence of volcanism in Europe, linked to an ancient mantle plume extending up to 248 miles (400km) underground. GPS monitoring data crowd-sourced from European antennas shows slight movements in the Earth’s surface – a potential sign of a rising mantle plume. Mantle plumes are upwellings of scorching hot rock within the planet’s mantle that can feed active volcanism.
Scientists believe one such mantle fed ancient volcanism in the mountainous Eifel region in western Germany and eastern Belgium.
The region is known for its many maars – shallow volcanic craters filled with water.
A large explosion rocked Eifel some 13,000 years ago, comparable in power to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.
Scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno; and the University of California, Los Angeles suspect the plume is still active.
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Study lead author Corné Kreemer said: “Most scientists had assumed that volcanic activity in the Eifel was a thing of the past.
“But connecting the dots, it seems clear that something is brewing underneath the heart of northwest Europe.”
The researchers combined data from commercial and privately owned GPS antennas all over western Europe to chart how the ground is moving vertically and horizontally.
Surface movement can reveal how the planet’s crust is pushed stretched and sheared.
The new study revealed that the land in the Eifel region is moving upward and outward.
Something is brewing underneath the heart of northwest Europe
The movement covers a large area of land centred on Eifel and including Luxembourg, eastern Belgium and Limburg, a southern province of the Netherlands.
Professor Kreemer said: “The Eifel area is the only region in the study where the ground motion appeared significantly greater than expected.
“The results indicate that a rising plume could explain the observed patterns and rate of ground movement.”
The study’s results complemented the findings of another study published in Geophysical Journal International.
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The previous study found seismic evidence of magma moving under the Laacher See, a volcanic caldera lake in western Germany.
Both studies suggest the Eifel region still sits on top of an active volcanic system.
Although the study’s do not warn of an immediate risk of eruption, the findings imply there could be an increased volcanic and seismic risk in this part of Europe.
The researchers said: “This does not mean that an explosion or earthquake is imminent, or even possible again in this area.
“We and other scientists plan to continue monitoring the area using a variety of geophysical and geochemical techniques in order to better understand and quantify any potential risks.”
The study was published in Geophysical Journal International.
In their paper, the researchers wrote: “The fact that the Eifel Anomaly is located above the Eifel plume suggests that the plume causes the anomaly.
“Indeed, we show that buoyancy forces induced by the plume at the bottom of the lithosphere can explain this remarkable surface deformation.”