Warm Springs may hold clues to Virginia's ancient volcanoes

Published: May. 2, 2016 at 7:18 PM EDT
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We've heard of volcanic eruptions throughout the world, but did you know Virginia was once home to some of the biggest volcanoes on the East Coast?

Volcanoes on the East Coast are more recent than you think. In fact, we're located in what researches consider to be a volcanic swarm, or cluster of volcanoes. Remnants of them are still visible even today.

The signs of Virginia's explosive past can be seen all around us in the rocks around us, if you know where to look.

Dr. Robert Tracy, a geologist at Virginia Tech has studied Virginia's ancient rocks for decades.

"Some of the oldest rocks in Virginia are along the Blue Ridge, and are over a billion years old. Most of them started out as volcanic rock, lava flows or ash layers associated with volcanic eruptions," says Tracy.

In his geology lab at Virginia Tech, Dr. Tracy examines a rock sample from Mount Rogers in Grayson County. Standing at 5,728 feet, Virginia's tallest mountain is also the state's oldest volcano.

If you go through the entrance at the Grayson Highlands Park and you go up to a place called Buzzard rock. within minutes you can be on outcroppings of very obvious volcanic rock that erupted 750 million years ago.

What's interesting to note is that "when the volcano erupted, the mountain was likely out near the Richmond area. Millions of years later it has been pushed back to the west.


The volcanoes around Virginia have been extinct for millions of years. However, one might questions could we ever see magma reach the surface again?

We would need some type of crack or pathway to get the magma thought to flow miles beneath the earth's crust, back up to the surface.

The nearest "crack" is thought to be along the Interstate 64 corridor. This so happens to be the same area where the Mineral, Virginia earthquake occurred, and is home to two of the youngest volcanoes, Mole Hill near Harrisonburg and Trimble Knob in Highland county. It's estimated those two volcanoes erupted more than 50 million years ago.

If you follow the Interstate 64 corridor to the west, you'll find several natural, heated mineral springs across the Alleghany Highlands.

For centuries people have come to the famous Jefferson Pools in Warm Springs to dip in the mineral water flowing from deep beneath the ground. The bubbling water stays a year-round 100 degrees.

While it's still not clear just how the water is heated, could these warm springs have a connection to Virginia's volcanic past?

Dr. Robert Tracy believes they could. "Hot Springs and Warm Springs are almost certainly a possibility for them is, they are heated by magma that is moving up one of these fracture zones."

He notes one such fracture zone can be mapped going very close by where those occur. So could Warm Springs be the sight of Virginia's next volcano?

Dr. Tracy admit's while these types of things are hard to predict, it's entirely possible.

Before you let your imagination run wild, it likely wouldn't happen for thousands if not millions of years.