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A crater spewing grey mud.

A mud volcano in Shirvan National Park, Azerbaijan. Researchers have investigated how similar mud volcanoes could form under water. Credit: Alamy

Geology

How mud volcanoes are born under the sea

Trapped gas causes buried sediments to flow like water, rising and erupting dangerously at the sea floor.

Mud volcanoes are an unpredictable and dangerous phenomenon — but now scientists have a better understanding of how some of them form and evolve.

More than 1,000 mud volcanoes have been identified around the world, both on land and under water. The most famous eruption, known as Lusi, began in Indonesia in 2006 and buried nearby villages in thick mud.

Arthur Blouin at the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea in Plouzané and his colleagues studied a mud volcano in the Caspian Sea, a centre of oil and gas exploration, which has the densest distribution of such volcanoes anywhere in the world.

The researchers simulated how methane becoming trapped in the sediments at the site could trigger changes in pore pressure, causing mud to form some 3.5 kilometres beneath the sea floor and begin rising. They calculate that it takes around 100 years for the mud to reach the sea floor and erupt.

Understanding what causes the mud to form, and how long it takes to get to the surface, could help researchers to improve predictions of future eruptions, the authors say.

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Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

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Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

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Jumping ant guarding pupae and larvae at the nest

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Neuroscience

Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

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Genomics

An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

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Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

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Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
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