This Science magazine news article discusses how a magma field was accidentally drilled into and how they plan to make a more permanent magma observatory.
This is a great opportunity for a lot of direct new information about what is going on in magma chambers. Up till now, observations haveIn May, the Krafla Magma Testbed (KMT) received financing from the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program, which said the project was one of its top priorities for the decade. With that support, along with several million dollars in funding from Iceland and other European science agencies, the project this month entered its preparation phase. It will prove out the technologies needed to hold the well open despite the corrosion that comes with superheated water, take geophysical soundings of the magma chamber, and model how the chamber will behave once penetrated. The first borehole, costing as much as $25 million, could begin as soon as 2023. been indirect.
Getting a sample will also reveal the true nature of the magma chamber. Most scientists reject the cartoonish view of magma chambers as hellish underground lakes. “We think of these systems as a mush”—small amounts of liquid between crystallized grains—“rather than a liquid balloon,” says Marie Edmonds, a petrologist at the University of Cambridge.
But Krafla, which last erupted in 1984, may be an exception. The glassy bits from the 2009 drilling campaign hinted that the magma was not only liquid, but also circulating, interacting with melt lower down. “That’s the most shocking thing from what little we’ve gleaned so far,” Eichelberger says. But little is known about the magma chamber’s size or how long it has persisted—questions KMT can help answer.
KMT intends to collect multiple samples over time and embed sensors in and near the magma to measure heat, pressure, and even chemistry despite temperatures of more than 1000°C. “The technical challenges are formidable,” says Wendy Bohrson, a volcanologist at the Colorado School of Mines. KMT’s drilling partners are testing flexible couplings that can allow the steel liner of the well to expand and contract with extreme heat. And others are developing innovative electronics to withstand the heat and pressure, which could someday be used on Venus.