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Could we really have a volcanic eruption in Australia?

Stretching across south east Australia is a “large” and young volcanic region that has the potential for future eruptions, a leading volcanologist says.

This geological area stretches across Mount Gambier in South Australia all the way into Melbourne in Victoria.

Australia's most recent volcanic areal; the Newer Volcanics Province of southeast Australia.
Australia’s most recent volcanic areal; the Newer Volcanics Province of southeast Australia. (Jozua van Otterloo)

Dr Handley told 9News.com.au the magma may be left over from previous activity or accumulating for future activity.

“(Scientists) have established there might be a small amount of molten rock somewhere in the lower crust,” Dr Handley said, explaining this small amount of magma could fuel a limited eruption.

“There is multiple ways molten rock can get to the surface.

“The amount of magma is enough to produce a lava flow that’s tens of kilometres long, but it’s not enough to build these long-lived mountains that last for thousands of years.”

This fragment of volcanic rock could revealed crucial insights into the Newer Volcanics Province, including how fast it was spewed to the surface.
This fragment of volcanic rock could reveal crucial insights into the Newer Volcanics Province, including how fast it was spewed to the surface. (Heather Handley)

Australia’s most recent eruptions

Three “geologically young” volcanoes have erupted in Australia within the last 10,000 years.

That time frame is the period in which volcanologists classify volcanoes as active with the potential of future of activity, Dr Handley explained.

Mount Gambier, South Australia
Mount Gambier is considered one of Australia’s youngest volcanoes. It last erupted about 5000 years ago. (iStock)
Mount Schank is a 100 metre high dormant volcano in the southeast corner of South Australia.
Mount Schank is a 100 metre high volcano in the southeast corner of South Australia. (Google Maps)

Two of these are in South Australia in the Newer Volcanic Province; Mount Schank and Mount Gambier.

The other is the Kinrara Volcano, in north-east Queensland.

What an eruption could look like in Australia

Dr Handley said predicting the timing and exact location of the next eruption is near impossible.

“The youngest areas in Australia they’re not focused on an individual volcano, what we have is a really big region that’s potentially active,” she said.

Largest volcanic eruptions in the world

“The hard thing is we don’t know where the next eruption could be.

“It could be anywhere within the field, from the data we have at the moment we don’t see any patterns in space or time.”

The Cumbre Vieja eruption on La Palma has been going since 19 September. (AP)

It all depends on whether the magma interacts with ground water.

“If the magma comes up where it meets some cold water it could lead to explosive activity,” Dr Handley said.

“It’s akin to mixing hot cooking oil with cold water.

“You get an explosive reaction — and we have a lot of limestone that holds water.”

Dr Handley said it’s unlikely an eruption would hit a major city, and send lava flowing down metropolitan streets, but couldn’t “100 per cent rule it out”.

“The chances of it happening are very small — the field is very broad,” she said.

“In the Newer Volcanic Province, we’ve had about 400 volcanoes erupting in the last million years or so.

“It just shows the chance of an eruption happening in a single human life-time is very small.”

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