Friday, August 01, 2014 Headlines & Global News

Earthquakes Sink Volcanoes In A Never-Before-Seen Natural War

By Rebekah Marcarelli | Jul 01, 2013 12:13 PM EDT

Volcano
Earthquakes usually cause volcanoes to erupt, not sink. (Photo : REUTERS/Antonio Parrinell)

Earthquakes and volcanoes are both natural behemoths, but one can triumph over the other.

Volcanoes in both Chile and Japan have sunk up to six inches as a result of huge earthquakes over the past few years, according to LiveScience.

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Even though the rows of volcanoes are in completely different parts of the world they sank in a similar fashion, and this is the first time scientists have seen this phenomenon.

"It's amazing, the parallels between them," said Matthew Pritchard, a geophysicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who led one of the studies. "I think it makes a really strong case that this is a ubiquitous process."

Volcanoes have shown sensitivity to earthquakes in the past, often erupting after seismic activity. They have even been known to respond to tremors thousands of miles away.

Scientists in both Chile and Japan independently searched the volcanoes for signs of "puckering" (magma rising underground) after their respective earthquakes took place, but found no signs of upcoming eruption.

Instead of puckering, volcanic areas as large as nine by 18 miles had sank by two to six inches.

"Even without visible eruptions, large earthquakes affect volcanoes," Youichiro Takada, a geophysicist at Kyoto University in Japan and lead author of one of the studies told LiveScience.

The Chilean and Japanese research teams both have different ideas of what caused the volcanos to sink.

The team studying the earthquake in Chile believes the tremors produced "uncorked fissures and fractures that released pent-up hydrothermal fluids at the volcanoes."  The "carbonated" fluids escaping the volcano caused the surrounding ground the settle.

Japan's research team doesn't agree. They think magma chambers underneath the volcanos sank more than surrounding areas during the seismic activity. The hot underground rock is more malleable and can be more easily affected by natural disasters.

"The observations in Japan and Chile are so similar that I'm certain that they are caused by the same mechanism (and maybe more than one), instead of two different ones in the two different countries," Sigurjon Jonsson, a geophysicist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia who was not involved in the study told LiveScience.

Both teams plan to continue the study by looking for past records of sinking volcanoes.

"Basically, the volcanic system has to be primed and ready to go for the earthquake to tip it over the edge," Pritchard said. "If, by chance, no volcanoes are close to that point, no volcanic eruptions are triggered [after an earthquake]," said Pritchard.

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