Meet the Supervolcano Secretly Working Underground


| LAST UPDATE 07/15/2022

By Stanley Wickens
New Zealand volcano lake
Jackyenjoy photography via Getty Images

A supervolcano has been hiding underneath a New Zealand lake for thousands of years. And although it's been dormant for hundreds of years, a recent study shows it may be causing more trouble than we thought...

According to the research, which was published in the New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics, the volcano is still very much alive. It's located just under Lake Taupō, the country's largest freshwater lake, in the north island. In the last 12,000 years, the giant caldera of the supervolcano has erupted 25 times - and the most recent one happened in the year 232 A.D. According to the paper's authors, the last eruption was "one of the Earth's most explosive eruptions in historic times" - and has been followed by 1,800 years of occasional unrest.

Lake Taupō volcano eruption
Mike Korostelev via Getty Images
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For the past decade, researchers have been observing and analyzing the behavior of the volcano, as well as the geological changes it has caused. "In 1979 [researchers] began a novel surveying technique which uses the lake surface to detect small changes, with four surveys made every year since," said lead author and seismologist at Victoria University of Wellington seismologist Finn Illsley-Kemp. "Within the lake, near Horomatangi Reefs, the volcano has caused 160 mm [16 cm or 6.3 inches] of uplift, whereas north of the lake, the tectonic faults have caused 140 mm [5.5 inches] of subsidence." In other words, research shows that the magma movement and tectonic activity have caused the lakebed of the supervolcano to become deformed up and down.

According to Illsley-Kemp, we can conclude from the findings of the study that Taupō is actually an active and dynamic volcano and is closely connected with the surrounding tectonics. "Taupō will most likely erupt at some stage over the next few thousand years – and so it's important that we monitor and understand these unrest periods so that we can quickly identify any signs which might indicate a forthcoming eruption," he explained. However, he added it's unlikely that it will erupt in the near future. And although it doesn't sound like this volcano will be bringing us bad news anytime soon, we're sure researchers will be keeping an eye on it just in case. Be sure to stay tuned!

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