Georgia Institute of Technology Georgia Institute of Technology

Research Horizons

Georgia Tech's Research Horizons Magazine

Bubble Trouble

photo illustration - erupting volcano

Photo illustration:

Volcanic eruptions spew fine ash, sulfur, and crystal-poor magma into the atmosphere. New research suggests how light vapor bubbles migrating and accumulating in parts of shallow volcanic chambers contribute to the effects.

Volcanic chambers are a maze of crystal-rich and crystal-poor regions, especially where magma stalls and builds before eruption. The researchers used lab experiments and computer models to focus on how bubbles move to and through these shallow reservoirs, which are three to five miles below the surface.

“We know that bubbles control the style and power of eruptions, but we don’t fully understand how they behave,” said Christian Huber, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s probably like opening a soda and watching the bubbles race to the top of the bottle.”

Huber and colleagues from Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich (ETH) believe these bubbles maneuver their way through crystal-filled magma until they settle in these open-spaced reservoirs — areas without many crystals — and build up the necessary energy for an impending eruption.

The team’s experiments indicate that bubbles squeeze through the narrow openings to create finger-like paths. These long paths allow the bubbles to merge and form connected pathways that transport low-density vapor efficiently through the crystal-rich parts of magma chambers.

“Once they reach the end of this crystal-rich area and get more space, the water vapor fingers transform back into their usual, spherical bubble shape,” said Andrea Parmigiani, who led the study during his postdoctoral work at Georgia Tech and ETH. “Once vapor forms these bubbles, the ascent of the light vapor bubbles is slow and bubbles accumulate.”

The findings were reported in the journal Nature. — Jason Maderer

Subscribe to Research Horizons
Get the latest Georgia Tech research news through our free print magazine, monthly electronic newsletter, and Twitter feed.


Georgia Tech is home to more than 2,500 faculty members who conduct scientific and engineering research in hundreds of different research areas.

Related Stories

Read More
Read More
Read More

Get the Latest Research News in Your Inbox

Sign up for the Research Horizons Monthly Newsletter

Media Contacts

John Toon

John Toon

Director of Research News
Phone: 404.894.6986
photo - Ben Brumfield

Ben Brumfield

Senior Science Writer
Phone: 404.385.1933
Josh Brown

Josh Brown

Senior Science Writer
Phone: 404-385-0500

Subscribe & Connect

Follow Us on Twitter:


RSS Feeds

Subscribe to our RSS Feeds with your favorite reader.

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our monthly email newsletter.

Research Horizons Magazine

Sign up for a free subscription to Research Horizons magazine.