Geologists have recently discovered a ‘zombie volcano’ in Matata—a small town located in the North Island of New Zealand. The term ‘zombie volcano’ refers to a magma build-up site that is located nowhere near an active volcano; presumably, such a magma chamber shouldn’t be ‘alive’.
According to geophysicist Ian Hamling, since 1950, the chamber has accumulated enough magma to fill 80,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Hamling called the discovery “quite a big surprise,” stating that although volcanic activity is not unusual in New Zealand, it’s rare to find such a large magma buildup in a region where there are no active volcanoes.
In regards to how Hamling and his team came to this discovery, Hamling’s team was originally looking for volcanic activity in the Taupo Volcanic Zone(TVZ), a region in the center of New Zealand’s North Island known for large scale volcanic eruptions over the past 1.6 million years.
During this time it was discovered that while the ground beneath TVZ was subsidizing, the ground beneath the town Matata had been rising since 1950, and at a even faster rate since the mid-2000’s.
The 650 inhabitants of Matata had also been subject to numerous earthquakes since the mid 2000’s. The cause was originally attributed to tectonic plate shifts, but Hamling suggests that the quick uplift of the land in recent times due to a magma chamber may be a more likely explanation.
— Mysterious Universe (@mysteriousuniv) June 7, 2016
So what are the implications of this large mass of magma?
As of now, there is no imminent danger. The findings suggest that molten rock can accumulate underground in complex and unconventional ways, but this does not mean that it’ll develop into an active volcano.
According to Pulse Headlines, Hamling says that the magma is deep enough underground (6 miles) that he does not expect eruption within his lifetime.
“The phenomenon has two possible scenarios, a volcano could develop over hundreds or thousands of years, or the magma could eventually cool and harden,” he said.
According to nature.com, this is not the first phenomenon of a ‘zombie volcano’. Matthew Pritchard, a geophysicist at Cornell University, notes that there have been similar sightings of magma accumulation in places other than under an active volcano in the central Andes.
“Not to be too glib, but we are not undergoing a zombie-volcano invasion,” he says. Instead, innovations in radar satellites have improved scientists’ view of ground movements, allowing them to find such magma chambers.
Full details of Hamling’s research are featured in the journal Science Advances.