Experimental geochemist Krawczynski to examine role of water in volcanoes, Earth’s evolution

Experimental geochemist Krawczynski to examine role of water in volcanoes, Earth’s evolution

Michael J. Krawczynski, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, won a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for his project “The Evolution of Super-Hydrous Magmas in the Earth’s Crust.”


In the new project, Krawczynski will apply experimental petrology, thermodynamics, and volcanology to explore how volcanoes work, especially how water affects the evolution of volcanoes and their behavior. A major part of Krawczynski’s work will be in developing new methods for estimating the amount of water in Earth’s lower crust, a critical factor in volcano volatility. This study will also be the first to experimentally determine geochemical pathways for the evolution of super-hydrous magmas in the deep crust.

“The most exciting aspect of this work is understanding the role of water in building the continental crust, which is a unique aspect of Earth, and is a major unexplained thing about the evolution of our planet,” Krawczynski said. Water dissolved in the deep Earth plays a key role in the explosivity of volcanoes, moderation of Earth’s climate, and maintenance of ocean volumes over deep time, as well as the formation of mineral resources such as gold and copper deposits. This project will allow Krawczynski’s group to develop new experimental methods to recreate conditions present in the deep Earth in the laboratory and thus study how water is stored and transported in the deep crust.

The project builds on Krawczynski’s ongoing research on the role of water in volcanic plumbing systems and the water cycle on Earth. Previous studies from Krawczynski’s lab include examining primitive magma from one of the most hydrous volcanoes in the world, using chemical diffusion to measure rates of volcanic activity, and probing the limits of water estimates in magma. All of these projects contribute to helping scientists understand how much water is moving in and out of Earth’s interior.

For the educational component of his NSF CAREER effort, Krawczynski will be partnering with WashU’s Fossett Laboratory for Virtual Planetary Exploration to create and distribute 3D lab modules and accompanying curricula using freely available augmented reality technology. In doing so, Krawczynski aims to improve engagement, understanding, retention, and access to petrology and volcanology for students from diverse backgrounds at all levels.