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Diggers Are Trying To Tap Into Volcano, And The Risks Might Be Worth It
Researchers are drilling into the Viti crater in the famous Krafla volcanic caldera in Iceland as part of their efforts to create the world’s only long-term magma observatory that they believe may one day help them better predict future eruptions. The Krafla is a massive volcanic caldera with a diameter of about 10kms (just over 6 miles) in northern Iceland’s Mývatn region. The volcano has reportedly erupted at least 29 times in recorded history, with the last eruption in 1984. Over the past few decades, the area has been the source of geothermal energy in the region and has been the driving force behind a 60MWe power station.
While volcanologists and geothermal researchers have been probing the region for a while, one of the most remarkable incidents there happened in 2009 when drillers trying to tap hot water for geothermal energy accidentally pierced a hidden magma chamber, resulting in molten rock flowing unexpectedly into the well at a depth of 2.1 kilometers (6,900 ft). The accident resulted in the termination of the project, but gave researchers the opportunity to study the magma and test a very hot geothermal system as an energy source.
The latest initiative to probe the Krafla is part of the Krafla Magma Testbed (KMT) project, whereby an international coalition of scientists and engineers are looking to establish a long-term natural laboratory to drill into the Krafla and gain valuable insight from the magma below the Earth’s surface. The volcanologists want to study the molten rock to improve their understanding of volcanoes in a way that can one day help them better forecast eruptions.
Talking to Science Magazine, the research director at Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology Paolo Papale said: “We’ve been to Mars. We’ve been to Venus. But we have never observed magma below the Earth’s surface.” The research could also shed light on the formation and growth of continents through the ages, according to the
Researchers Are Probing The Viti Crater Within Krafla
The exact area of research is the Viti crater, which is a smaller area within Krafla, where the researchers are hoping to build a full-fledged geothermal research center within the next decade. As part of the plan, the KMT has received funding from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, as well as the science agencies of Iceland and other European countries. The project will look to drill down two kilometers (around 1.25 miles) beneath the Viti’s surface to reach the molten rock for their research.
The main purpose of the drilling is to establish where and under what conditions magma is stored beneath a volcano. If the initial process goes according to plan, the researchers will look to place sensors near and even in the magma to measure a rise in temperature or increase in pressure that could lead to an eruption. Another major beneficiary will be the geothermal energy sector, which offers environmentally friendly, renewable energy in the region. The KMT is expected to help further research and development on extracting heat directly from magma and significantly improve the conversion efficiency of geothermal heat to electricity.
While there are likely to be multiple benefits accrued from the KMT, there are questions about the safety of drilling into a volcanic crater and injecting water that would increase pressure under the Earth’s surface in an already seismically active region. However, the scientists involved in the project are mostly rejecting such concerns. According to them, the drilling activity and the injection of water to cool the drill may result in increased pressure under the surface, but it will not be enough to trigger an eruption. However, even if something unexpected happens, it won’t result in any loss of human life because the region is remote and uninhabited.