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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.

More Research Highlights...

Pulsar wind nebula illustration

Curving purple lines in this artist’s impression represent the magnetic field of a neutron star (white sphere) left over from a brilliant supernova. Credit: Salvatore Orlando/INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo

Astronomy and astrophysics

X-rays expose a clue to the mystery of the missing neutron star

Astronomers might have spotted the long-sought debris of a famous stellar explosion.
A bone fragment next to a dime

A bone fragment excavated in Southeast Alaska belonged to one of the earliest known domestic dogs in the Americas. Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo

Genomics

An ancient Alaskan dog’s DNA hints at an epic shared journey

To scientists’ surprise, a 10,000-year-old bone found in an Alaskan cave belonged to a domestic dog — one of the earliest known from the Americas.
Emissions billow from smokestacks at a coal-fired power plant as the sun sets, India.

Black carbon emitted by power plants and other sources in Asia wafts to the Arctic, where the pollution accelerates the melting of ice and snow. Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg/Getty

Atmospheric science

Soot from Asia travels express on a highway to the high Arctic

Black carbon from fuel combustion in South Asia bolsters the effects of climate change on northern ice and snow.
Prevotella copri bacteria, computer illustration

The gut bacterium Prevotella copri (artist’s impression) has been linked to a reduction in the health benefits of a diet that skimps on red meat in favour of fish and vegetables. Credit: Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library

Microbiology

Trying a Mediterranean diet? Gut microbes might sway the outcome

The composition of a person’s microbiome could influence the health effects of swapping steak for vegetables and olive oil.
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