Scientists Search Mexico's Galapagos for Quake, Volcano Clues
Scientists Search Mexico's Galapagos for Quake, Volcano Clues

Mexico City, 24 Apr (ONA) --- Located in the Pacific Ocean several hundred kilometers from the Mexican coast, the Revillagigedo Islands are known as "Mexico's Galapagos" due to their isolation and biodiversity. This is where scientists headed to find answers to question such as: Could a volcanic eruption off Mexico’s coast unleash a tsunami like the one that devastated Tonga? What really causes tectonic plates to shift and trigger earthquakes?

One of the archipelago's volcanos, Barcena, last erupted spectacularly in 1953, and another Evermann, in 1993. Both remain active today.

Located on a mid-ocean ridge, the four islands, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2016, are uninhabited and access is tightly restricted.

Getting there takes about 24 hours or more by boat and few civilians visit apart from scuba divers lured by giant manta rays, humpback whales, dolphins and sharks.

The international team of 10 scientists carried out a week-long mission whose aims included trying to determine if—or more likely when—there will be another volcanic eruption.

"What we're trying to find is how explosive these volcanos can be and how dangerous," said the group's leader, Douwe van Hinsbergen, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The worry is that something similar to the cataclysmic eruption of the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Ha'apai volcano in January could send a tsunami hurtling towards Mexico's Pacific Coast.

"Whenever there are active island volcanos, there are always possibilities of generating tsunamis," said Pablo Davila Harris, a geologist at Mexico's Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosi.

The team also hopes that its analysis of minerals brought up by past eruptions will help to understand the motion of tectonic plates, which cause earthquakes and volcanic activity.

According to conventional theory, convection—the mantle's motion caused by the transfer of heat from the Earth's core to the outer layer—causes tectonic plates to move and grind against each other.

Van Hinsbergen's hypothesis is that the mantle is in fact "a big lake of rock that is essentially not convicting," which he said would require a complete rethink.

"If that is true, then everything that we see, at least on timescales of tens of millions of years and shorter, is driven by gravity pulling plates down. And that would make the whole system a lot simpler," he said.

The samples collected have been taken to Europe for analysis and the results are expected to be known later this year.