Could a volcano explosion off Mexico’s coast cause a tsunami like Tonga’s? What causes tectonic plate shifting and earthquakes? Scientists went to a secluded archipelago to find out.
The Revillagigedo Islands, located in the Pacific Ocean several hundred kilometres off the Mexican coast, are dubbed “Mexico’s Galapagos” owing to its seclusion and richness.
Barcena, one of the archipelago’s volcanoes, erupted dramatically in 1953, while another, Evermann, erupted in 1993. Both are still in operation today.
The four islands, which were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016, are uninhabited save for naval personnel, and access is strictly controlled.
It takes around 24 hours or more by boat to get there, and few citizens visit apart from scuba divers attracted by enormous manta rays, humpback whales, dolphins, and sharks.
Last month, an international team of ten scientists undertook a week-long journey with the goal of determining if – or more likely when – another volcanic explosion would occur.
“What we’re looking for is how explosive and hazardous these volcanoes can be,” said the group’s head, Douwe van Hinsbergen, a professor at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University.
– Subverting convention – There is concern that anything akin to the disastrous eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in January might send a tsunami racing toward Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
“Wherever there are active island volcanoes, there is always the possibility of tsunami generation,” said Pablo Davila Harris, a geologist at Mexico’s San Luis Potosi Institute for Scientific and Technological Research.
“What we volcanologists are trying to determine is when the next eruption will occur,” he said, using modelling based on historical volcanic activity.
Additionally, the team expects that their examination of minerals exposed during previous eruptions may aid in understanding the movement of tectonic plates, which results in earthquakes and volcanic activity.
“Plates slide over the mantle. Is the mantle attempting to shove the plates? Is the mantle inactive?” According to van Hinsbergen.
According to traditional thought, tectonic plates move and grind against one another due to convection — the movement of the mantle produced by the transfer of heat from the Earth’s core to the outer layer.
Van Hinsbergen’s idea is that the mantle is really “a large lake of rock that is fundamentally non-convective,” which he stated would necessitate a complete rethink.
“If that is the case, then everything we see, at least on timeframes of tens of millions of years or less, is caused by gravity tugging plates down. And this would simplify the whole system considerably “‘He said.
The project was funded by a Dutch programme that supports “ideas that are nearly definitely erroneous but, if they are not, will have significant consequences,” in van Hinsbergen’s words.
The gathered samples have been sent to Europe for examination, and the findings should be available later this year.
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