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Science

Mount Michael’s Mystery: Expedition Uncovers Rare Lava Lake in Remote Volcano

Aerial photo of Mount Michael. NASA.
published

Mount Michael, shrouded in mystery, has long tempted volcanologists due to its persistent thermal anomaly at the summit.

Mount Michael, an active stratovolcano rising 990 meters above sea level, is situated on the uninhabited Saunders Island in the South Sandwich Islands. The volcano is characterized by its steep slopes and a horseshoe-shaped crater, which opens to the northwest. Known for its challenging accessibility due to its remote location and almost constant cloud cover, the volcano has remained largely unexplored, with only a few expeditions ever venturing to the island.

A recent expedition led by Dr. Emma Nicholson of University College London confirmed the presence of a lava lake within the crater of Mount Michael. The island’s location, approximately 2,000 kilometers from its closest inhabited neighbors, the Falkland Islands, provides a unique, pristine environment for studying the volcano’s emissions and their impact on the local ecosystem.

Mount Michael, shrouded in mystery

Mount Michael, shrouded in mystery, has long tempted volcanologists due to its persistent thermal anomaly at the summit. Stable lava lakes, a rare geological feature, require a delicate balance between the heat supplied by gas and magma from deep within the Earth and the heat loss at the surface. Out of 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth, only seven have recently or currently hosted lava lakes. Nicholson and her team aimed to confirm suspicions that Mount Michael was home to the eighth.

The snow is deeply acidic and undrinkable

During the National Geographic-documented expedition, the team discovered that the island’s virgin snow was deeply acidic and undrinkable, indicating a significant impact on the environment from the volcano’s emissions. The South Sandwich Islands, which include Saunders Island, are part of a volcanic archipelago that spans about 350 kilometers of the Southern Ocean. These island arcs form when two of Earth’s tectonic plates collide, forcing one under the other.

Geological youth

The South Sandwich Islands’ geological youth offers a window into the development of more mature island arcs. With millions of people living on island arcs worldwide, the team’s findings may contribute to improved eruption forecasting and monitoring capabilities in populated areas.

The discovery of the lava lake within Mount Michael’s crater holds great significance for scientists, as it offers a rare opportunity to study the geological processes at play in an untouched environment. Further research into Mount Michael’s volcanic activity may not only deepen our understanding of the dynamics of lava lakes but also provide crucial insights into the behavior and development of volcanoes in other regions, ultimately contributing to better monitoring and forecasting of volcanic eruptions worldwide.

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