Mount Michael Volcano is shrouded in mystery. Only a few people have landed on the remote Saunders Island on which it sits, and before the expedition led by Dr Emma Nicholson of University College London, no one had climbed the summit. A few observed from space, which escaped through the clouds almost constantly, tried volcanologists.
“Mount Michael has been known for several decades to receive persistent thermal anomalies at its peak. “It’s a much hotter hotspot than the surrounding areas,” Nicholson said in a statement.
“We know from other open volcanoes around the world that host these hotspots often have active lakes on top of their craters.”
wash the lake
Stable lakes are a rare geological feature. They carefully need a balance between the heat of gas and magma trapped deep in the Earth and the loss of heat at the surface to melt it. Of the approximately 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth, only seven now have one or have recently hosted one, and Nicholson and his team wanted to confirm their suspicions that Mount Michael is the eighth host.
Mount Michael’s remote location and continuous gas emissions also make it an ideal natural laboratory for studying how volcanic emissions affect the local environment. The nearest inhabited islands are the Falkland Islands, 2000 kilometers away.
“Very few other places have such a pristine environment where you know every trace of metal that’s in the environment comes from the mountain,” Nicholson said.
A group of virgins hoped to use the water to drink on the island’s snow. However, when some of the neighbors tasted the snowpack, they found it completely acidic and completely fluvial, a sign of how much the volcano was affecting the island’s environment.
“I was hoping there would be some trade, but I never expected this firm to suddenly become a major research focus,” Dr. Nicholson said.
Saunders Island is part of the South Sandwich Islands, an archipelago that stretches about 350 kilometers into the Southern Ocean. These types of island arcs are found all over the world and form where two of the Earth’s tectonic plates collide and are forced under each other.
“It’s really a window into the development of early bows,” Nicholson said. “The arc itself of the whole island is incredibly interesting because it is geographically one of the smallest volcanic arcs on Earth.”
Such arcs of Iceland are home to millions of people around the world. In addition to shedding new light on how volcanic arcs evolve over geologic time, the team hopes to use the information learned here to improve eruption forecasting and monitoring of volcanoes in popular areas.