A massive upwelling of hot rock is rising under part of New England, including Western Massachusetts, raising the possibility of a volcanic eruption, but don’t jump in the car just yet. If it does happen, it will be tens of millions of years from now, new research suggests.
The study, by researchers from Rutgers University and Yale University, was published recently online in the journal Geology.
“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, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said recently in a statement.
Levin said it was a “distant relative” of what is happening at Yellowstone National Park. “Something relatively small — no more than a couple hundred miles across — is happening.”
Yellowstone is the site of a supervolcano that has been sleeping for about 640,000 years but could wreak devastation if it erupted.
The bubble of rock Levin studied is largely beneath central Vermont, Western New Hampshire, and Western Massachusetts, he said.
“It will likely take millions of years for the upwelling to get where it’s going,” he added. “The next step is to try to understand how exactly it’s happening.”
Levin said the Atlantic edge of North America has not experienced intense geological activity for nearly 200 million years.
In the region now, “slow loss of heat within the Earth and erosion by wind and water on the surface are the primary change agents. So we did not expect to find abrupt changes in physical properties beneath this region, and the likely explanation points to a much more dynamic regime underneath this old, geologically quiet area.”
Levin said in a telephone interview that previous researchers had found warm areas under the surface of the earth on the East Coast.
“The novelty in our research is an ability to provide an argument for its motion,” he said. “It’s not just hot. We can see that it’s doing something.” He said he and his fellow researchers, his colleague Maureen Long at Yale and three Rutgers and Yale undergraduates, were able to “confirm that the rock was flowing ... and that the motion was vertical.”