First contact with inner Earth

Bruce Marsh: Magma abounds inside the Earth, in many places. But we have never ever encountered one. We talk about it, we try to find it. But we have never ever encountered one. And it’s only the beginning. A recent discovery leads to our first contact with molten magma.

That’s Earth scientist Bruce Marsh of Johns Hopkins University. He’s excited about the first-ever discovery of magma – molten material – inside Earth. The dynamic movement of magma has helped shape the world on which we stand. But it took an accidental discovery by a drilling crew in Hawaii to find the first actual molten magma still inside Earth.

Bruce Marsh: They were drilling down in a basically routine drilling operation, and they started seeing some unusual materials coming up in the cuttings. And it turns out to be this very clear glass. They stopped, pulled it up, redrilled it. This happened several times. And they could tell that this material was actually coming up the drill hole and then corking itself off through cooling from the drilling fluids.

Before this, scientists wondered whether it would ever be possible to study live magma near Earth’s surface.

Bruce Marsh: This is, for me and for people who study magma, this is Jurassic Park for magmas. In other words, people would be thrilled to find a dinosaur in its natural habitat. For us, this is magma in its natural habitat. This is first contact with inner Earth.

Join EarthSky in celebrating The International Year of Planet Earth. Thanks to the National Science Foundation and US Geological Survey.

Our thanks to:
Bruce Marsh
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland

March 12, 2009

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