Calif. volcano crater could come alive

Jan. 23, 2012 at 6:49 PM
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DEATH VALLEY, Calif., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A volcanic crater in California's Death Valley was created far more recently than previously thought and gives signs of future activity, researchers say.

Researchers from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said the 600-foot deep Ubehebe Crater, formed when a rising plume of magma hit a pocket of underground water resulting in an explosion, formed just 800 years ago. Its relatively youthful age, geologically speaking, means there could be sufficient groundwater and magma for a repeat performance, a Columbia release said Monday.

Violent mixing of magma and water creates a so-called phreatomagmatic explosion, bursting through a hole in the overlying sedimentary rock and sending out superheated steam, volcanic ash and deadly gases such as sulfur dioxide, researchers said.

"It would be fun to witness -- but I'd want to be 10 miles away," study coauthor Brent Goehring said of such an explosion.

Recent geophysical studies have spotted what look like magma bodies under other parts of Death Valley, co-author Nicholas Christie-Blick said.

"There is no basis for thinking that Ubehebe is done," he said.

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