Lava mystery solved

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Tectonics
Great Rift Valley, Tanzania Great Rift Valley, Tanzania Shutterstock
01 Jun
2014
New study by researchers from Michigan State University solves long-standing mystery about the source of massive lava flows in Africa

‘For decades, there has been a big debate as to where the lavas from this massive outpouring came from,’ said Tyrone Rooney, who led the study. ‘Did they emit from deep within Earth or was there some contribution from shallower sources?’

Rooney and his team studied an ancient outpouring in the Great Rift Valley. About 30 million years ago, some 350,000 cubic kilometres of lava poured out across the region as the African tectonic plate broke apart. Using mass spectrometry, they determined the rocks’ chemical signatures, which allowed them to trace their origin.

The results indicated that an unusual group of lavas in Ethiopia was formed when part of the tectonic plate itself melted. These rocks had chemical signatures of materials found in the lithosphere and were distinctly different from most of the other rocks in Ethiopia.

They also found that the samples matched rocks collected from so-called basalt floods elsewhere, suggesting that these may also have a shallow source.

‘We’re interested in this because these massive outpourings happen around the same time continents break apart, create new oceans and affect the planet and the environment on a global scale,’ Rooney said. ‘So knowing the source of the lava gives us insights into a process that we still know little about.’

This story was published in the June 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

Compared to other types of carbon sink, seagrass in Kenya…

Geophoto

Who in their right mind wants to shoot with film…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Geophoto

Calling photographers passionate about capturing and sharing great images of…

Climate

Five experts weigh-in on the future of the Paris Agreement…

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

For the past ten years, the Chartered Institution of Water…

Geophoto

Less than 4,000 tigers remain in the wild, so it…

Oceans

Zafer Kizilkaya has been awarded the 2017 Whitley Gold Award…

Wildlife

John Kahekwa is the founder and general manager of the…

Polar

Recent observations of Arctic flora and fauna indicate major changes…

Oceans

A massive die-off of Australian mangrove forests is being attributed…

Energy

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

Was last year’s El Niño a practice run for future…

Wildlife

The continuing adventures of Aaron Gekoski as he joins the…

Geophoto

What do Ethiopia’s ‘church forests’, the incipient HS2 high-speed rail…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues working alongside the Wildlife Rescue Unit

Geophoto

Today, the camera is regarded as an essential smartphone feature.…

Oceans

An innovative new theory hopes to save millions of lives…

Wildlife

Aaron Gekoski continues his personal adventure into the wilds of…