Crystals help volcanoes cope with pressure

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have discovered that volcanoes have a unique way of dealing with pressure -- through crystals.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Geology, a network of microscopic crystals can lessen the internal pressure of rising magma and reduce the explosiveness of eruptions.

Crystals can form in the rising molten rock in as little as 18 minutes. If the magma becomes more than 20 percent crystals, they can act like guard rails that funnel gas to possible cracks within the volcano or to the opening at the Earth's surface.

"The problem is when the gas can't get out," said Amanda Lindoo, lead author and UAF geosciences doctoral student. "That causes a buildup in pressure that can lead to the very explosive eruptions that shoot ash plumes. The crystals can alleviate that."

Co-author Jessica Larsen, a volcanologist with the UAF Geophysical Institute, said the findings challenge the prevailing assumption that the amount of silica in magma is the major driver in gas escape.

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