Helium also rising from Costa Rica’s Turrialba volcano

January 15, 2010

Scientists who visited the Turrialba volcano on Tuesday detected a new gas seeping out of the mountain that indicates magmatic activity.

Researchers from the Center for Atomic, Nuclear, and Molecular Science Research (CICANUM), based at the University of Costa Rica, discovered that helium at a concentration of 20 parts per million have begun to ooze out of the land mass. The most helium ever measured at Turrialba was 30 ppm.

Jorge Andrés Díaz, a physicist with CICANUM told the daily La Nación that the gas “only presents itself when there is new magmatic degasification.” Similar samples taken in September 2009 contained no helium.

A report released by the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI), based at National University, on Wednesday said the gas´ presence supports the possibility of a “magmatic intrusion,” which means molten rock would slowly ascend into the earth´s crust beneath the volcano.

OVSICORI volcanologists, however, fell short of predicting lava flows outside of the volcano as a result of the latest revelations.

Díaz was out of the office on Wednesday but an assistant told The Tico Times that he had passed the information regarding the presence of helium to the National Emergency Commission (CNE). Press officials from the commission said Wednesday afternoon they need more time to analyze the new studies before determining if more evacuations will be necessary.

Tuesday´s samples also evidenced an increase in sulfur dioxide leaking out of the Turrialba volcano, located about 40 kilometers northeast of San José. Experts were hesitant about discussing health risks the gases pose to nearby communities without knowing more about their quantity and concentration.

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