Hot, bubbling magma discovered under New England states, scientists say

  • Fiza Pirani, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Dec 19, 2017

Scientists at Rutgers University have discovered a massive body of magma rising underneath part of New England.

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Using the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope program, the researchers examined two years worth of seismic data measured by thousands of seismic measurement devices 46.6 miles apart across the continental United States. 

According to the NSF, the EarthScope program “seeks to reveal the structure and evolution of the North American continent and the processes that cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,” Rutgers Today reported last month.

The program helped scientists detect and infer more about the previously documented area of warmth under New England.

“The upwelling we detected is like a hot air balloon, and we infer that something is rising up through the deeper part of our planet under New England,” lead author Vadim Levin told Rutgers Today.

Here’s what you should know about the recent discovery:

What exactly are seismic waves and what can they tell researchers?

Levin refers to seismic waves as “vibrations that pass through our planet following earthquakes.”

He told Rutgers Today that understanding seismic waves means understanding more about Earth’s interior. They reveal “the shapes of objects, changes in the state of materials and clues about their texture.”

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Under which states is the magma located?

The newfound magma is under parts of Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Should New England residents panic?

According to the Rutgers researchers, residents living above the magma (those in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire) don’t need to panic or evacuate.

“It will likely take millions of years for the upwelling to get where it’s going,” Levin said.

And if and when volcanoes do appear in New England, the eruption won’t be as devastating as the devastation scientists expect from the Yellowstone supervolcano.

“It is not Yellowstone (National Park)-like, but it’s a distant relative in the sense that something relatively small – no more than a couple hundred miles across – is happening,” Levin said.

But the next step, Levin said, is to understand how exactly this upwelling underneath New England is happening.

Why is this discovery so groundbreaking?

According to Levin, the research challenges textbook concepts of geology.

“The Atlantic margin of North America did not experience intense geologic activity for nearly 200 million years,” Levin told Rutgers Today. But now it’s a “so-called ‘passive margin’ – a region where slow loss of heat within the Earth and erosion by wind and water on the surface are the primary change agents.”

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Levin said he and his team didn’t expect to uncover abrupt changes in physical properties beneath this region.

“The likely explanation points to a much more dynamic regime underneath this old, geologically quiet area,” he said.

Read the research, published in the journal “Geology” last month.