Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mud Volcanoes of Azerbaijan.

Bubbling volcano. 
(Photo by Peretz Partensky.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Apparently, there are such things as mud volcanoes?  And apparently, there are around 850 mud volcanoes in the world and over 300 of them can be found in Azerbaijan alone.  Who knew?

Mud volcanoes are the little-known relatives of the more common magmatic variety.  Instead of spewing out lava when they erupt, they bubble up mud.  Unlike their magma cousins, they are not considered to be dangerous when they do erupt.

Mud volcanoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but those most common in Azerbaijan have several small cones, or vents, up to about four meters (13 feet) in height, sometimes topping a hill that is several hundred meters in height.   These small mud volcano cones emit cold mud, water and gas almost continually.

Geologically speaking, mud volcanoes are one of the visible signs of the presence of oil and gas reserves under the land and sea in the Caspian region.  A deep mud reservoir connected to the surface acts as the source of eruptions here, and even in dormant periods seeping water at the surface shows traces of its subterranean origin. 

Mud volcano.
(Photo by Eminn.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
There is still debate, among geologists, as to exactly how mud volcanoes are formed.  Some geologists believe they are formed in areas of weakness in the Earth's crust, along fault lines, and are associated with geologically young sedimentary deposits and the presence of organic gas from hydrocarbon deposits.  Overlying pressure forces this gas to the surface, expelling mud in the process.  Essentially, the gas is trying to escape to the surface and in the process, pushing up the mud with it.  Other geologists believe additional factors, like seismic activity, come into play in the formation of a mud volcano.

When it comes to explaining the varying shapes, sizes and behavior of mud volcanoes, there is even less agreement among geologists.  Obviously, more scientific research needs to be conducted.  Luckily, geologists have ample opportunity to study various aspects of mud eruptions in just Azerbaijan alone!  Not only is Azerbaijan unique because it is home to so many mud volcanoes, it's also unique because it has all kinds of mud volcanoes.  There are active, dormant, buried and subsea volcanoes in Azerbaijan, as well as ones that spew oil.

Mud volcano in Gobustan.
(Photo by Bruno Girin.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
As you might expect, volcanic mud contains valuable microelements such as vanadium, manganese, lithium, and boron.  Additionally, erupted water is rich in organic compounds, as well as in bromide, boron and iodine. 

Because it is not caused by magma, the mud from the volcanoes can be very cold in temperature, often just above freezing.  Indeed, the cool and ambient temperatures of Azerbaijan’s mud volcanoes attract locals and tourists to make treks to take baths in the mud for its supposed therapeutic effects.

Volcanic clay is also a valuable raw material for use in the production of high-quality cement, expanded clay, bricks and steel pellets.

On our trip, we will be spending time in Gobustan National Park and I am certain we will see a few mud volcanoes.  I don't think we'll be bathing in any mud volcanoes but I do hope we get to see them bubbling!