Mud Volcanoes

Mud Volcanoes are not real volcanoes as they do not produce lava. The name is actually misleading and is probably based solely on the shape of the phenomena rather than volcanic processes.

Structure of a Mud Volcano (Credit: Deville, Battani, Yannik, Lallemant)

Continental mud volcanoes are vents that commonly expulse gas bubbles shown to be predominantly consisting of methane, as well as saline water and mud to which oil can be associated. Mud volcanoes are not magmatic volcanoes and are not as hazardous as magmatic volcanoes since they can only emit warm mud and only very locally (a few hundred meters around them). Mud volcanoes are generally encountered in areas where natural gas is present. Magmatic volcanoes erupt when magma (i.e., molten rocks) reach the surface and become lava.

Mud volcanoes are usually located along or close to the axis of anticlines and/or strike-slip faults which act as fluid flow conduit. Even if this alignment along a structural axis is strongly indicative of a tectonic influence, its extent is uncertain and the motive forces responsible for the ascent of mud and fluid were attributed both to tectonic compression and methane generation, accumulation, and escape.

Mud Volcanoes Across Trinidad

Mud Volcanoes Across Trinidad (Credit: TTWC)

Mud volcanoes are no strangers to Trinidad and numerous sites with dormant or low activity mud volcanoes are scattered across South and South-Central Trinidad. Generally, the mud volcanoes across the island are quite passive with few bubbles of hot mud and gas emissions. 

Major Mud Volcano Eruptions Since 1900 Across Trinidad

Mud Volcanoes & Earthquakes

Based on prior research done around the world, there is a link between mud volcanoes and earthquake activity. One of the most notable events mud volcano of Kandewari in the south of Pakistan, in the Makran prism, which followed the violent earthquake (7.7 Mw) which affected the north-west of India and the south of Pakistan on January 26th, 2001. For mud volcano eruptions in Trinidad however, much of the historical eruptions occurred during relatively seismically quiet periods.

From Deville & Guerlias (2008):“There is no direct correlation between eruptions and violent seismic events. The eruptions rather take place during periods of low seismic activity. Even for the eruption of the Piparo mud volcano in 1997, there is no direct link with the seismic crisis which took place the same year in the region, near Tobago. The mud eruption predated the seismic crisis and was followed by a non-seismic period of 40 days before the strongest earthquakes. At the most, we can make the correlation between the eruptions of Devil’s Woodyard of May 8th, 1995, Piparo on February 22nd, 1997 and of Chatham on May 10th, 2001 with modest seismic events (Magnitude 3.4 – 4.2) in the region which preceded the eruption the day before or two days before.”

Following the M6.9 earthquake on August 21st 2018, both the Devil’s Woodyard and Piparo Mud Volcano erupted. 

Update on the Piparo Mud Volcano from AAPG Young Professionals Trinidad & Tobago Chapter: Members of the AAPG visited the Piparo mud volcano this morning and noted fresh mud flow up to 1m from central vent. Constant hiss of gas and mud flows. SW-NE en echelon dextral fractures have appeared in various places with vertical throw of up to 3cm. Some N-S fractures also present with bubbles appearing along some. The AAPG will continue to monitor Piparo as we are hit by waves of aftershocks from the earthquake. Such aftershocks can potentially trigger a sizeable eruption due to the buildup of pressures at depth over the past 20 years. Video: AAPG Young Professionals Trinidad & Tobago Chapter

Posted by Trinidad and Tobago Weather Center on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

6:30PM Wednesday 22nd August 2018: More video from the Piparo Mud Volcano. Aftershocks from earthquakes can potentially trigger a sizeable eruption due to the buildup of pressures at depth over the past 20 years. Video: Rudra Narase

Posted by Trinidad and Tobago Weather Center on Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The frequency of activity of mud volcanoes seems essentially controlled by local pressure regime within the sedimentary pile (Deville et al., 2004). At the most, the seismicity can, in certain cases, activate an eruption close to its term.

After every seismic event – regardless of magnitude – we’re always asked if Trinidad and Tobago can expect more earthquakes. The Eastern Caribbean is the most seismically active area along the Caribbean Plate. Each year, over 1200 earthquakes are recorded in the Eastern Caribbean. These earthquakes aren’t necessarily a precursor for a larger event.

On average, the Eastern Caribbean has seen a pattern of quakes within M7.0 to M7.9 every 20 to 30 years. That pattern has stayed true and was last seen in an event north of Martinique in 2007.

Historical patterns indicate earthquakes at and above the magnitude of 8.0 on the Richter Scale have occurred every century or so in the region, and the probability of another event at that level is high since the last >M8.0 earthquake occurred in 1843.

Sources

– Cyclic activity of mud volcanoes: Evidences from Trinidad (SE Caribbean), Deville & Guerlais, (2009), Marine and Petroleum Geology, doi:10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2009.03.002

– Deville, E., Battani, A., Callec, Y., Guerlais, S.-H., Mascle, A., Prinzhofer, A., Schmitz, J., Lallemant, S., 2004. Processes of mud volcanism and shale mobilization: a structural, thermal and geochemical approach in the Barbados–Trinidad compressional system. In: 24th Annual GCCSEPM Foundation, Bob F. Perkins Conference, pp. 514–527.

– An Overview of Mud Volcanoes Associated to Gas Hydrate System, Tinivella & Giustiniani (2012), Updates in Volcanology – New Advances in Understanding Volcanic Systems, DOI: 10.5772/51270

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