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New paper examines eruptive history of Nabro volcano, Eritrea

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NASA Earth Observatory image showing Nabro eruption on June 29, 2011.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data.


Bureau scientists Nels Iverson and Bill McIntosh co-authored a recent paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews that examines the eruptive history of Nabro volcano, located on the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia. Numerical argon dating (40Ar/39Ar) completed at the New Mexico Geochronology Research Laboratory indicates that Nabro has produced pyroclastic eruptions since at least the Middle Pleistocene about 380 thousand years ago. These eruptions likely caused significant environmental disruption, forcing people living in and around the caldera to move until the landscape surrounding the volcano recovered. Indeed, as recently as 2011 an eruption forced 12,000 people to temporarily or permanently relocate. By using geochemical fingerprinting, researchers were able to determine that valuable Nabro obsidian, used to make tools, formed the basis of an extensive prehistoric trade network in the Red Sea region, and likely attracted people to settle around the volcano. This paper demonstrates how volcanoes could significantly influence prehistoric human settlement and migration patterns, and could do so again in the future.

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