A Huge Blob of Hot Rock Has Been Rising Under Vermont for Tens of Millions of Years

Sure, Vermont's foliage is beautiful, but what's going on deep below? Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

New England's natural wonders are supposed to be limited to beautiful fall foliage and striking mountains—striking, but very much inactive, stable, long dead mountains. Here, the Earth is supposed to be changed by wind and water, not by molten rock: If you want to see volcanoes, you go to Hawaii, not Vermont.

It's been 200 million years since New England saw any serious magma activity, and scientists didn't have any reason to think that would change any time soon. But according to a new paper published in the journal Geology, a bubble of hot rock has been quietly growing beneath the region for tens of millions of years now.

"The upwelling we detected is like a hot air balloon, and we infer that something is rising up through the deeper part of our planet under New England," lead author Vadim Levin, an earth scientist at Rutgers University, said in a press release.

No one is going to see volcanoes in New England any time soon—the scientists are confident it will be millions of years more before the upwelling leads to any sort of eruption. But if the new paper holds up, it could cause an eruption of sorts in the field of geology, where scientists had been pretty certain that large continental plates like North America's should be, well, boring far away from their edges.

So Levin and his colleagues tapped into data gathered by EarthScope, a government-funded network of thousands of seismological monitors located across North America. Encoded in that data is information scientists can use to piece together a map of what's going on underneath the surface, since waves of energy traveling through the Earth's surface change depending on what sort of substance they're traveling through.

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That's how Levin and his colleagues identified the upwelling beneath central Vermont, western New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, which they think has been building for tens of millions of years—not actually that long when you're talking about geology. The area stands out because here, the Earth is behaving differently than it does in the regions nearby. It's hotter than neighboring regions and doesn't show the same physical properties. That's why they think it's an upwelling, a blob of hot rock slowly rising through the Earth's surface.

There's a chance the upwelling may be a little larger, since the team is currently limited by where EarthScope monitors are set up, but they plan to keep investigating the phenomenon. "It will likely take millions of years for the upwelling to get where it's going," Levin said in the press release. "The next step is to try to understand how exactly it's happening."