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Article Released Wed-10th-September-2008 18:14 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 Volcanoes: A mobile magma chamber

Summaries of newsworthy papers include Astronomy: Extraordinary stellar blast visible to the naked eye, Climate change: The older the better, Astrophysics: A blast from the past of a celebrity star and Water flow through synthetic trees


This press release is copyright Nature.

VOL.455 NO.7210 DATED 11 SEPTEMBER 2008

This press release contains:

· Summaries of newsworthy papers:

Volcanoes: A mobile magma chamber

Astronomy: Extraordinary stellar blast visible to the naked eye

Climate change: The older the better

Astrophysics: A blast from the past of a celebrity star

And finally… Water flow through synthetic trees

· Mention of papers to be published at the same time with the same embargo

· Geographical listing of authors

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[1] Volcanoes: A mobile magma chamber (pp 216-219)

Vesuvius’ magma reservoir, previously thought to be in a relatively fixed position in the upper crust, has actually migrated upwards over the past 20,000 years, suggests a report in Nature this week. This upward movement should be considered when modelling possible eruption scenarios and may have implications for future hazard assessments in the area.

The area around Vesuvius is one of the most densely populated volcanic regions in the world, so accurate forecasting of future eruptive activity is an important challenge for volcanologists. Critical to the evaluation of hazards associated with the next eruption is estimating the depth of the magma reservoir, one of the main parameters controlling magma properties and eruptive style. The ponding of magma at shallower depths may indicate, for example, that it has a lower volatile content and is likely to erupt less violently.

Bruno Scaillet and colleagues collected rock samples from four major explosive events, and reconstructed the temperature and pressure conditions at which the magma was originally stored. They found that the reservoirs feeding the eruptions migrated from 7–8 kilometres to 3–4 kilometres depth between the ad 79 (Pompeii) and ad 472 (Pollena) events. This migration was also associated with changes in magma properties and is possibly associated with temporal changes in magma feeding rates. Present hazard assessments for the Neapolitan area are based on the assumption that these feeding rates have remained constant over the past 4,000 years.

The authors suggest that the possibility that the feeding rate has fluctuated, in particular before major Plinian-style explosive events, should be considered. They also stress that substantial effort is needed to increase the resolution of geophysical surveys to better constrain the depth and properties of the magma ponding beneath Vesuvius.

Bruno Scaillet (CNRS-Université d'Orleans, France)
Tel: +33 2 38 25 53 40; E-mail:

[2] Astronomy: Extraordinary stellar blast visible to the naked eye (pp 183-188; N&V)

Gamma-ray bursts are exceptional explosions that occur (mostly) in very distant galaxies. The one known as GRB 080319B was the optically brightest on record, briefly being potentially visible to the naked eye. A paper in this week’s Nature recounts what happened within seconds of its formation and then in the afterglow that followed over the next few weeks.

The optical flash from GRB 080319B earlier this year was the brightest ever to emanate from a gamma-ray burst, which signals the violent death of a massive star and is thought to be associated with the collapse into a newly formed black hole. Even at a distance of more than 9 billion light years, it was potentially visible to the naked eye. Judith Racusin and her colleagues seized the opportunity to collect huge amounts of data from the flash and the afterglow.

Their findings offer a glimpse into material being expelled from the central engine at speeds very close to the speed of light, producing an afterglow as it crashes into the surrounding environment.

Judith Racusin (Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA)
Tel: +1 814 865 0421; E-mail:

Jonathan Grindlay (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, MA, USA)
Tel: +1 617 495 7204; E-mail:

[3] Climate change: The older the better (pp 213-215)

Ageing forests continue to accumulate carbon and are important global carbon sinks, suggests a paper in Nature this week. The research indicates that 15% of the global forest area, not currently considered when offsetting increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide, provides at least 10% of the global net productivity.

Old-growth forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates that vary with climate and nitrogen deposition. The carbon dioxide is stored in live woody tissues and slowly composing organic matter in leaf litter and the soil. These ageing forests are not generally thought to continue accumulating carbon, so are not protected by international treaties.

Sebastiaan Luyssaert and colleagues searched literature and databases for forest carbon-flux estimates. They found that in forests between 15 and 800 years of age, net ecosystem productivity, the net carbon balance of the forest, is usually positive. Their results demonstrate that old forests can continue to accumulate carbon, and are not actually carbon-neutral as previously believed. Because old growth forests steadily accumulate carbon for centuries, they contain vast quantities of it. The authors suggest that if these forests are disturbed, much of this carbon, even soil carbon, will move back to the atmosphere.

Sebastiaan Luyssaert (Antwerp University, Belgium)
Tel: +32 3 820 2289; E-mail:

[4] Astrophysics: A blast from the past of a celebrity star (pp 201-203)

Eta Carinae is the most massive and luminous star in our region of the Milky Way, but it brightened dramatically in the middle of the nineteenth century when it threw out a cloud of gas and dust that is now known as the Homunculus nebula. A paper in this week’s Nature reports the discovery of an extremely fast blast wave linked to this violent eruption, providing clues about the star’s instability and most likely end as a supernova.

The ejection in the historical 1843 eruption of Eta Carinae involved about 12 solar masses of material travelling at some 650 kilometres per second. Nathan Smith has now detected much faster material from the same event, probably powered by an explosion that propagated a blast wave ahead of the more massive ejecta.

Eta Carinae is believed to have undergone comparable eruptions about a thousand years ago. However, even after the 1843 cataclysmic event, the star has not yet reached core collapse. Similar stellar explosions seen in other galaxies have been dubbed as ‘supernova impostors’.

Nathan Smith (University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA)
Tel: +1 510 642 6931; E-mail:

[5] And finally… Water flow through synthetic trees (pp 208-212)

School kids are taught how plants transpire — evaporation of water through the leaves pulls more up from the soil through the roots, which then travels up the stem to refresh the leaves. But until now, the unusual physics behind this transpiration process has prevented it from being simulated in the laboratory. A paper in this week's Nature reveals the design of a synthetic ‘tree’ that has managed to capture the key attributes of transpiration in a microfluidic system.

Tobias Wheeler and Abraham Stroock formed their microfluidic tree in an artificial hydrogel. The tree is able to convert the difference in saturation between two water sources (representative of the soil and atmosphere) into a flow of water at negative pressures. The flow continuously transfers heat as liquid water evaporates at the 'leaf' surface.

The team suggests that technologies requiring large pressure differences, such as high-performance liquid chromatography, could be performed passively in microfluidic systems. Their findings also raise the possibilities of extending the maximum dimensions and heat flux of wick-based heat pipes, and of extracting and purifying water from sub-saturated soils.

Tobias Wheeler (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 607 255 0501; E-mail:

Abraham Stroock (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA)
Tel: +1 607 255 4276; E-mail:


[6] A Mott insulator of fermionic atoms in an optical lattice (pp 204-207)

[7] Understanding the limits to generalizability of experimental evolutionary models (pp 220-223)


***These papers will be published electronically on Nature's website on 10 September at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time (which is also when the embargo lifts) as part of our AOP (ahead of print) programme. Although we have included them on this release to avoid multiple mailings they will not appear in print on 11 September, but at a later date. ***

[8] Trans-splicing in C. elegans generates the negative RNAi regulator ERI-6/7
DOI: 10.1038/nature07274

[9] Eukaryotic initiation factor 6 is rate-limiting in translation, growth and transformation
DOI: 10.1038/nature07267

[10] Concurrent nucleation of 16S folding and induced fit in 30S ribosome assembly
DOI: 10.1038/nature07298

[11] Structural insights into amino acid binding and gene control by a lysine riboswitch
DOI: 10.1038/nature07326


The following list of places refers to the whereabouts of authors on the papers numbered in this release. For example, London: 4 - this means that on paper number four, there will be at least one author affiliated to an institute or company in London. The listing may be for an author's main affiliation, or for a place where they are working temporarily. Please see the PDF of the paper for full details.

Hawthorn : 2

Antwerp: 3

Santiago: 2

Nanjing: 2

Gif-sur-Yvette: 3
Orléans: 1
Paris: 6
Saint Martin d’Hères: 2

Garching: 2
Jena: 3

NainiTal: 2

Jerusalem: 2

Alessandria : 9
Bologna: 2
Cagliari : 1
Frascati: 2
Merate: 2
Milan: 2, 9
Monte Porzio Catone: 2
Napoli: 2
Palermo: 2
Perugia: 2
Pisa : 1

Amsterdam: 2
Dwingeloo: 2
Leiden: 2

Otwock: 2
Warsaw : 2

Nizhnij Arkhyz: 2
St Petersburg: 2

Granada: 2

Zurich: 3, 6

Bath: 7
Birkenhead: 2
Edinburgh: 3
Hatfield: 2
Holmbury St Mary: 2
Leicester: 2
London: 7
Warwick: 2


Huntsville: 2

Berkeley: 4
Santa Cruz: 2, 7

Chicago: 9, 10

Baltimore: 2, 10
Columbia: 2
Greenbelt: 2

Boston: 8

New York
Ithaca: 6
New York: 11

Las Vegas: 2

Corvallis: 3

Danville: 10
University Park: 2

Seattle: 8


From North America and Canada

Katherine Anderson, Nature New York
Tel: +1 212 726 9231; E-mail:

Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

From Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan

Mika Nakano, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

From the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above

Jen Middleton, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4502; E-mail

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Keywords associated to this article: Volcanoes, Astronomy, Climate change, Astrophysics, synthetic trees
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