Drillers Tap Into a 1000-Degree Magma Chamber by Accident

By Eliza Strickland | December 17, 2008 8:51 am

lavaIn a happy accident for science, a geothermal energy company drilling a borehole near the Hawaiian volcano Kilauea drilled right into a magma chamber, giving researchers a glimpse of a primal geological force. The unprecedented discovery could act as a “magma observatory,” allowing scientists to test their theories about how processes transformed the molten rock below Earth’s surface into the rocky crust that humans live on today [Wired News].

Volcanologist Bruce Marsh described the discovery at the ongoing meeting of the American Geophysical Union, saying that it’s “the first time a magma has been found in its natural habitat…. Before, all we had to deal with were lava flows; but they are the end of a magma’s life. They’re lying there on the surface, they’ve de-gassed. It’s not the natural habitat. It’s the difference between looking at dinosaur bones in a museum and seeing a real, living dinosaur roaming out in the field” [BBC News].

The geothermal company, Ormat, was looking for hot underground rocks that could be used to generate steam that would drive a turbine, and began drilling near Kilauea on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2005. After digging 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) deep, workers noticed something unexpected emerging from the well, said William Peplow, a consultant geologist for the drilling project…. The temperature of the magma reached 1050 Centigrade, but it cooled into clear glass when it rose about 8 meters (26 feet), thanks to the cold drilling fluid being pumped into the well as part of the drilling process [Greentech Media].

Tests revealed that the substance was dacite, an unusual type of magma that is chemically distinct from the basalt which forms nearly the entire mass of the Hawaiian Islands and the surrounding oceanic crust [BBC News]. It’s thought that dacite forms naturally from basalt, and that the dacite can then harden into the granite that forms the core of the earth’s continents. According to Marsh, it’s possible that the magma observatory is giving scientists a view of the differentiation process by which continents first formed out of the oceanic basalt.

Related Content:
80beats: A Remote-Controlled Helicopter Checks for Restive Volcanoes
80beats: Earth’s Minerals Evolved Too, Thanks to the Evolution of Life
DISCOVER: Journey to the Center of the Earth discusses what we could learn by digging deep

Image: USGS

  • http://larianlequella.com Larian LeQuella

    Drilling holes in Hawaii and they are surprised the hit magma? 😉 Sounds like the Vulacanologist slipped someone a $20 and just said, “Keep drilling until you hit it!”

  • Kenneth Lawrence

    It will be interesting to see if the dacite found in the magma chamber can be made to transform into granite. According to Robert Gentry, who wrote “Creation’s Tiny Mystery” (about Polonium radiohalos and formation of granite), no one has ever been able to produce granite in the lab from melted granite. If the discovered dacite can be made to cool into granite, it would undermine Gentry’s theory of granite formation. But if it doesn’t turn into granite when cooled, that would support Gentry. So far, the experimental evidence is in Gentry’s favor and supports his theory that granite in the Earth’s crust was not formed from magma, but was created instantly by God’s command a few thousand years ago, as the existence of Polonium radiohalos in granite is seemingly impossible to explain otherwise. I suspect that attempts to make dacite into granite will meet with as much success as other attempts to make granite from rock melts, i.e. no success. But real science is about what can be proven experimentally, not about speculation (as in the last two sentences of the article above). I and many others will be watching with rapt fascination. KL :)

  • chilton

    yeah, the driller was probly like, lets drill all the way and loose the drill bit so we can go home lol

  • Larry Travis

    In response to kenneth Lawrence, do you think God created all the granite around the same time as he created the rest of our earth and the solar system? And the dinosaurs were created when? Maybe you meant to say a few billion years ago? But then again the bible is rather vague about when all this took place. And what experimental proof is there that God created granite a few thousand years ago? Or am I missing the logic that says if we cannot prove something scientifically that automatically this is proof that a mysterious force (God) did it?

  • Brother Lawrence

    hmmmm, so just because we can’t prove how Granite is formed/created, we should assume that a God force made it several thousand years ago (as per Usher)!! So if my niece ‘Sees’ that there is a monster under the bed, but I can’t prove it isn’t, then I should assume a God force has placed it there, and therefore real; hmmm very unscientific; much like the planets revolve around the sun, or the earth is flat, or the atom is the smallest unit of creation; if it is unprovable, then give the credit/blame to God.
    Kenneth, leave belief and religion where they belong, in the house of worship and not in science; it does not belong here, other than to stand in awe at Her creative abilities and our small baby steps at understanding that creation. Jesus, Her Annointed One, would understand, that CONCEPT. Render to Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s, and to G_d, that which is G_d’s.
    Now let’s leave those whose calling is in Science to their searching, and get back to the calling we have, of teaching the world about our G_d’s mercy! Happy Holidays, however you may celebrate them. BL

  • Yaldabaoth

    Haha. Experimental evidence is in the favor that God created all the granite a few thousand years ago?!?!?! This was along with all the sedimentary layers full of various types of fossils too right? Gentry is a nuclear physicist, not a geologist. He should leave that field to its own people. Creation’s tiny mystery is so full of misunderstanding as to be laughable. Just fundamentally wrong.

  • SC

    hi KL…how long will it take the dacite to cool before they know – one way or the other?

  • http://www.huligar.com/ Granite

    Very interesting post you wrote. Glad I have stumbled upon it. Cheers!

  • scott
  • scott
  • Pop Bottle

    >>>>no one has ever been able to produce granite in the lab from melted granite<<<<

    This has to be among the dumbest arguments for young Earth creationism. The starting materials for granite formation are almost certainly not the same composition as granite. Further, the very act of melting granite can cause recombination of the components into different compounds thus sequestering reactants from reforming the rock as it was before.

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