Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science

Steffi Burchardt awarded a research grant by the Wallenberg Foundation for her project on fracture formation in magma


CNDS fellow Steffi Burchardt was awarded a research grant by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for her discovery of a paradoxical property in magma: it can fracture even though it flows. Her aim is to understand how fracture formation in magma influences everything from the prediction of volcanic eruptions to deposits of noble metals and the formation of oil reservoirs.

As the Earth’s interior pushes up through its crust, it forms magma chambers, hot reservoirs of mostly liquid magma. Previously, researchers had thought that earthquakes occur when the rock around the magma chamber fractures, but Associate Professor Steffi Burchardt from Uppsala University, and CNDS fellow, has studied ancient, solidified magma chambers and deduced that the magma itself also appears to fracture. This could be because of the enormous forces that arise as additional magma flows into the already overflowing chamber.

The assumption that only rock can fracture has led to researchers probably underestimating the amount of magma below various volcanoes. Steffi Burchardt will now investigate how her new insights will influence predictions of volcanic eruptions.

Understanding of how magma fractures is also important for localizing noble metals and oil reservoirs. Magma can be rich in silver, gold, copper and platinum, which are deposited in the cracks that form. In Argentina, oil has been found in solidified magma chambers, which can be explained through fracturing. Steffi Burchardt will also work with the Icelandic Deep Drilling Project to optimize the extraction of geothermal energy from magma chambers.

Text borrowed from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.