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Japanese researchers are planning to bore into a vent on the volcano Mount Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture in late January for samples of magma in what would be the world’s first volcano-drilling experiment.

“We would like to resolve the mechanism of why eruption patterns differ depending on the volcano,” said Setsuya Nakata, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute, which is participating in the experiment.

The researchers will attempt to “dissect” the volcano by directly exploring the magma, which cannot be observed in studies conducted from above ground, and rocks around the volcanic vent, the team said.

They aim to bore to the midpoint of the vent, which runs from a magma deposit several kilometers underground to the summit of Mount Unzen.

The team will build a 43-meter-tall drilling derrick on the mountainside some 850 meters above sea level and 1,300 meters northwest of the lava dome of Fugen, Mount Unzen’s main peak.

They plan to drill about 1,700 meters to penetrate the vent, the researchers said. The vent is several dozen meters thick and 200 meters wide.

The magma there has solidified due to cooling during an eruption but still measures 600 to 700 degrees.

Since nothing can drill into such hot bedrock, the team will bore while using muddy water to cool it. The water will also help prevent volcanic gas and other substances from spewing out during the operation.

The team hopes to extract a sample about 200 meters long and 15 cm in diameter by summer.

After being dormant for about 200 years, the 1,486-meter Mount Unzen erupted in June 1991, claiming 43 lives. It remained active until 1995.

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