The 'zombie volcano' growing beneath New Zealand: Geologists discover massive magma chamber under North Island
Scientists say they have discovered a magma buildup near a small town in New Zealand that explains a spate of recent earthquakes and could signal the beginnings of a new volcano.
Thankfully for the 650 inhabitants of Matata, the coastal town near the magma buildup, they are not expecting an eruption anytime soon.
Matata Recreation Reserve
The researchers, from GNS Science, said that since 1950, enough magma to fill 80,000 Olympic-size swimming pools has squeezed up beneath the surface.
The research was published in Science Advances and explains that while other parts of New Zealand have active volcanoes, there have been none near Matata for at least 400,000 years.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Dr Ian Hamling, who led the study, said: 'It was quite a big surprise.'
Beautiful Matata landscape
The team used GPS data and satellite images, which allowed them to discover that an area of land about 154 square miles (400 square kilometres) had risen 40 centimetres (16 inches) since 1950.
Additionally, they found that there was increase in inflation rate from 2003 to 2011, triggering thousands of small earthquakes in the area.
Previously it had been thought that the earthquakes were caused by tectonic shifts.
Sunrise at a Matata beach
The magma is about 6 miles (10 kilometres) below the surface, which is deep enough to assume that a volcano is unlikely to form for hundreds or even thousands of years.
Otherwise, the magma could cool and harden, preventing further development of a volcano.
Matata, is a coastal town about 120 miles (200 kilometres) southeast of Auckland, which is home to about 650 people.
Aerial view Matata beaches
Dr Hamling said he hoped further study would allow scientists to develop a warning system for earthquakes in the area.
Dr Hamling emphasised how unusual it is to discover magma buildup in an area with no volcanoes, such as Matata.
While most of the measurements could be made on land, just over half of the area studied is offshore, meaning the researchers had to rely on inferences from what happened on the land to gauge the changes underwater.
The White Island volcano in New Zealand
New Zealand is no stranger to geological disasters. The 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake killed more than 250 people, while the more recent 2011 Christchurch tremor left an estimated 185 dead.
In terms of volcanoes, the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera destroyed several villages and killed around 120 people.
The aftermath of one of many New Zealand major earthquakes
It can't be encouraging to find out your town is situated atop what, for all intents and purposes, is a burgeoning volcano. However, the scientists say that not only is an eruption not imminent, the region's volcanic hazard hasn't changed.