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Posts by Colin J.N. Wilson

Volcanoes: Characteristics, Tipping Points, and those Pesky Unknown Unknowns

The geological record of volcanic eruptions suggests that scientists are some way from being able to forecast eruptions at many of the world’s volcanoes. There are three reasons for this. First, continuing geological discoveries show that our knowledge is incomplete. Second, knowledge is limited about why, how, and when volcanic unrest turns into eruptions, and over what timescales. Third, there are imbalances between the studies of past eruptions, and the geophysical techniques and observations on modern events, versus the information needed or demanded by society. Scientists do not yet know whether there are other, presently unknown, factors that are important in controlling eruptions, or if there is an inherent unknowability about some volcanic systems.

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The Life and Times of Silicic Volcanic Systems

Silicic volcanic systems provide timed snapshots at the Earth’s surface of the magmatic processes that also build complementary plutons in the crust. Links between these two realms are considered here using three Quaternary (<2.6 Ma) examples from New Zealand and the USA. In these systems, magmatic processes can be timed and the changes in magmatic conditions can be followed through the sequence of quenched volcanic eruption products. Before an eruption, magma accumulation processes can occur on timescales as short as decades, and whole magma systems can be rebuilt in millennia. Silicic volcanic processes, in general, act on timescales that are too rapid to be effectively measured in the exposed plutonic record.

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