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...

Wildlife

After years of trials, talks, tweaks and test runs, EarthRanger…

Climate

Nationalism might gain political points in certain parts of the…

Geophoto

With guaranteed sunshine, bright blue skies and not a hint…

Oceans

A review of coral-saving methods is helping communities decide which…

Polar

A seven-year study of Patagonia’s ice sheets has revealed the…

Climate

The environmental impact of Bitcoin is higher than its virtual…

Geophoto

With a camera in everyone’s pocket, the once rarified world…

Climate

The idea of the Earth as a self-regulating, living organism…

Oceans

A temporary fishing ban has been imposed by the European…

Wildlife

A look at the contribution of hippos to the savannah…

Wildlife

The new app encourages young children to connect with the…

Energy

A type of panel has been invented that can generate…

Tectonics

In the 4th century BC, Aristotle proposed that earthquakes were…

Climate

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management pledges to achieve net…

Tectonics

Earthquakes from time immemorial have attracted the attention of the…

Tectonics

A planned kayaking expedition in Nepal took on a whole…

Tectonics

Scientists from Bristol University are working in conjunction with EDF…

Tectonics

In the 1930s, Charles Richter developed a simple scale for…