Potential volcanic eruptions lie under Rio Grande rift
Volcanic activity in Socorro from shallow magma chamber

By Ashley B. Martinez / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted Nov. 1, 2012

Volcanoes make up New Mexico's unique geology because of a rare geological feature, the Rio Grande rift. The rift caused a vast amount of volcanoes to erupt out of the ground and form a chain of volcanoes that lay dormant, but there's a chance to see another volcanic eruption.

NM geological rift relates to volcanoes
[+] Click HERE for slideshow w/audio
By Ashley B. Martinez

Geologists discuss the dangers of volcanoes in New Mexico.

The rift remains active, according to University of New Mexico Professor and geologist Karl Karlstorm, and that there's a possibility an eruption can take place along the rift. "We can see magma under Socorro, about 19 kilometers deep ... but we don't know if it's going to crystallize and never erupt, or there might be another pulse from down below that stirs up the magma chamber and lets the magma squeeze up between faults ... and there could be an eruption."

Karlstorm is anxious for the possibilities of a volcano eruption being born in the Socorro area since that type is less hazardous. These types of volcanoes would be similar to the Albuquerque volcanoes, "It's much more local in its danger ... and in a very predictable flow path around the volcano," Karlstorm said. But there are other volcanoes in the state that can be dangerous to people like the Valles Caldera in Jemez, N.M.

"These explosive ones are much more wide spread, much more unpredictable and the ash cloud would cover the landscape almost instantly," Karlstorm said. The Valles Caldera is a young super volcano that went through a cycle of eruptions about 1.2 million and 1.6 million years ago. The explosions of these eruptions equaled to about 2,000 Mount St. Helens eruptions.

According to Kenneth Wohletz, a geophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, "This cycle can repeat itself in periods of millions and millions of years," he said. However, he is betting his money on a less dangerous eruption.

"There's a suggestion that the history of these volcanoes can repeat itself, and whether that is possible here or not no one knows. We will see future eruptions, but they will never be as big as the one that occurred here about a million years ago," Wohletz said.

If a volcanic eruption or strong earthquake would happen in the state, the Emergency Management Team would be prepared to protect people from its dangers. According to Andrew Phelps, the emergency manager of the City of Santa Fe, his team considers natural disasters as part of their plan. The team wants to be prepared for anything that comes its way even though impacts of a Valles Caldera eruption could be devastating.

"The hope is that the instrumentations get good enough at watching the warning signals," Karlstorm said. "The better geologists understand volcanoes, the better they can predict new eruptions to protect people from harm. But still, we are at the early stages of prediction."