Why is a South American volcano rapidly expanding?
It is a mystery that a team of scientists working in Bolivia are hoping to solve.
Uturuncu, a nearly 20,000 foot volcano located in southwestern Bolivia, is expanding at a rate of one to two centimeters per year, "inflating with astonishing speed," reports OurAmazingPlanet's Andrea Mustain on LiveScience.
According to Shan de Silva, an Oregon State University professor studying the volcano, the 43 mile-wide disc of expanding land around Uturuncu is "one of the fastest uplifting volcanic areas on Earth."
Even though there are not serious fears that Uturuncu will become a supervolcano, "volcanoes in the region appeared to hoard magma for around 300,000 years before they erupt, [and] Uturuncu last erupted around 300,000 years ago," reports the Daily Mail.
At the rate that Uturuncu is expanding on the surface, scientists estimate that the magma underneath is expanding by 27 cubic feet every second, according to LiveScience.
Despite extensive research, volcanologists do not yet know why Uturuncu is expanding so rapidly. De Silva said that he has dubbed his team's work "'volcano forensics,' because [they are] using so many different techniques to understand this phenomenon."
A Wired Science blog writes, "This uplift is likely due to the intrusion of magma at depth and could imply that a large reservoir of magma is building under Uturuncu, which is thought to have not erupted since sometime in the Pleistocene (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago)."
De Silva and his colleagues discovered the volcano's expansion by looking at satellite image data, reports LiveScience. They found that the volcano has been continuously expanding for at least twenty years. But without older data, the volcano reamins a mystery.
Elsewhere in South America, flights from Brazil to Argentina and Uruguay were recently resumed after ash from a Chilean volcano had grounded a number of flights.
Amazing video footage caught Sicily's Mount Etna erupting for the 17th time this year, sending lava plumes 300 feet into the air.
Click here to check out photos of "the world's most viewer-friendly volcanoes" and information on where to find them.