Magma chamber

Magma chamber

Ask a question about 'Magma chamber'
Start a new discussion about 'Magma chamber'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

A magma chamber is a large underground pool of molten rock
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

 found beneath the surface of the Earth. The molten rock in such a chamber is under great pressure, and given enough time, that pressure can gradually fracture the rock around it creating outlets for the magma
Magma is a mixture of molten rock, volatiles and solids that is found beneath the surface of the Earth, and is expected to exist on other terrestrial planets. Besides molten rock, magma may also contain suspended crystals and dissolved gas and sometimes also gas bubbles. Magma often collects in...

. If it finds a way to the surface, then the result will be a volcanic eruption; consequently many volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

es are situated over magma chambers.

Magma chambers are hard to detect, and most of the known ones are therefore close to the surface of the Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, commonly between 1 km and 10 km under the surface. In geological
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 terms this is extremely close to the surface, although in human terms it is considerably deep underground.

Dynamics of magma chambers

Magma rises through fractures from beneath the crust because it is less dense than the surrounding rock. When the magma cannot find a path upwards it pools into a magma chamber. As more magma rises up below it, the pressure in the chamber grows.

If magma resides in a chamber for a long period, then it can become stratified with lower density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 components rising to the top and denser materials sinking. It can also start to cool, with the higher melting point components such as olivine
The mineral olivine is a magnesium iron silicate with the formula 2SiO4. It is a common mineral in the Earth's subsurface but weathers quickly on the surface....

 crystallising out of the solution, particularly near to the cooler walls of the chamber, and forming a denser conglomerate of minerals which sinks. Any subsequent eruption may produce distinctly layered deposits, for example the deposits from the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is a stratovolcano in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, about east of Naples and a short distance from the shore. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting...

 include a thick layer of white pumice
Pumice is a textural term for a volcanic rock that is a solidified frothy lava typically created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is violently ejected from a volcano. It can be formed when lava and water are mixed. This unusual formation is due to the simultaneous actions of rapid...

 from the upper portion of the magma chamber overlayed with a similar layer of grey pumice produced from material erupted later from lower down in the chamber.

Another effect of the cooling of the chamber is that the solidifying crystal
A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography...

s will release the gas (primarily steam
Steam is the technical term for water vapor, the gaseous phase of water, which is formed when water boils. In common language it is often used to refer to the visible mist of water droplets formed as this water vapor condenses in the presence of cooler air...

) previously dissolved when they were liquid, causing the pressure in the chamber to rise, possibly sufficiently to produce an eruption. Additionally, the removal of the lower melting point components will tend to make the magma more viscous (by increasing the concentration of silicate
A silicate is a compound containing a silicon bearing anion. The great majority of silicates are oxides, but hexafluorosilicate and other anions are also included. This article focuses mainly on the Si-O anions. Silicates comprise the majority of the earth's crust, as well as the other...

s). Thus, stratification of a magma chamber may result in an increase in the amount of gas within the magma near the top of the chamber, and also make this magma more viscous; potentially leading to a more explosive eruption than would be the case had the chamber not become stratified.
If the magma is not vented to the surface in a volcanic eruption it will slowly cool and crystallize at depth to form an intrusive igneous body composed of granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 or gabbro
Gabbro refers to a large group of dark, coarse-grained, intrusive mafic igneous rocks chemically equivalent to basalt. The rocks are plutonic, formed when molten magma is trapped beneath the Earth's surface and cools into a crystalline mass....

 (see also pluton
A pluton in geology is a body of intrusive igneous rock that crystallized from magma slowly cooling below the surface of the Earth. Plutons include batholiths, dikes, sills, laccoliths, lopoliths, and other igneous bodies...


Often, a volcano may have a deep magma chamber many kilometres down, which supplies a shallower chamber near the summit. The location of magma chambers can be mapped using seismology
Seismology is the scientific study of earthquakes and the propagation of elastic waves through the Earth or through other planet-like bodies. The field also includes studies of earthquake effects, such as tsunamis as well as diverse seismic sources such as volcanic, tectonic, oceanic,...

: seismic waves from earthquakes move more slowly through liquid rock than solid, allowing measurements to pinpoint the regions of slow movement which identify magma chambers.

As a volcano erupts, emptying the magma chamber, the surrounding rock will collapse into it. If a large amount of magma is erupted, causing the chamber to reduce considerably in volume, then this can result in a depression at the surface called a caldera
A caldera is a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption, such as the one at Yellowstone National Park in the US. They are sometimes confused with volcanic craters...