Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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

Protestors from the global south were physically removed yesterday from…

Climate

Climate NGOs point fingers at nations holding back climate crisis…

Climate

The Paris Agreement has reached adolescence. Its final stages of…

Climate

A report presented at COP25 highlights the trouble with tourism,…

Climate

For the 25th time in history, the United Nations has…

Wildlife

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year’s Rising Star winner brings…

Energy

Abandoned coal mines contain a precious resource in the warm…

Climate

Marco Magrini wonders if the annual gathering of world leadership…

Wildlife

A new animation produced by the charity Born Free raises…

Wildlife

The United States is grappling with a wild pig invasion.…

Wildlife

Increased interest in the farming of endangered animals as a…

Geophoto

Will 2019 go down as the year that the world…

Climate

Large-scale air travel is under public scrutiny, and refusing to…

Climate

A review of climate crisis coverage in the global media…

Oceans

Marco Magrini looks at the carbon capturing power of the ocean’s…

Oceans

Marine Protected Areas are designed to benefit the marine ecosystem…

Climate

The link between China’s economic growth and increased pollution has…

Climate

An analysis of nine year’s worth of lightning data, covering…

Climate

When getting on ‘board’ with sustainability is the entire goal

Oceans

Many scientists believe that jellyfish numbers are increasing, pointing to…