Science & Technology

You asked: Why is it so difficult to predict a volcanic eruption?

You asked: Why is it so difficult to predict a volcanic eruption?

By Divya Agarwala
|February 9, 2021

“You Asked” is a series of Earth Research Institute experts addressing readers’ questions about science and sustainability. The following question was submitted to volcanologist Einat Lev following her talk.Why a volcanic eruption of data is needed.. In a talk taken as part of the 2020 Open House at Home at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Lev states that increased volcanic surveillance can save lives.

Take a short look here and read Rev’s answer to the reader’s question below.

Why is it difficult to obtain real-time eruption information in the information age?

Einat Lev is an associate research professor of seismology, geology, and structural physics at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Her research seeks to understand the physical processes that influence the effects of volcanic eruptions.

Most technologies exist to obtain pre-eruption information, but unfortunately, there are very few places where sufficient sensors are already installed. Obtaining musical instruments at volcanoes can be difficult because they are remote, dangerous, or can be complicated to work with (for example, national parks or private land). Dispatching a large interdisciplinary team can be exorbitantly expensive, so usually only one researcher visits the site. So, overall, there are technologies to get eruption information, but they all come down to economics.

How accurate are the predictions of volcanic eruptions? How much lead time is there between the forecast and the event?

Only about 20% of eruptions have an appropriate increase in alert level before the eruption occurs. Given the importance of warning citizens living near active volcanoes, it is fairly low. Lead times range from hours to days and months. Often it depends on the style of the volcano. For example, some volcanoes give few signs before they erupt. You may also think that the activity will be active and the eruption will start soon, but nothing will happen for months after that.

It is difficult to collect enough data to find a clear pattern of this widespread volcanic behavior. Many places don’t have enough data due to financial constraints, but sometimes we see the wrong signal. For example, some volcanoes have only one seismograph. If those pre-eruption rises occur as gas increases rather than rumblings that can be picked up as seismic waves, there is insufficient data to predict lead times and warn researchers.

Can you predict which volcano will cause a violent eruption?

A common pattern is that volcanoes containing highly viscous magma erupt more violently. In detail, subduction zone volcanoes contain more water and silica, which create viscosity and their eruptions are likely to be large and violent. However, the prediction is not completely clear as it depends on the size of the system and how fast the magma moves towards the surface. This is actually an active field of study. For example, I am studying Alaska volcanoes. The volcano has mostly smooth lava eruptions, but with occasional heavy blows. Researchers are comparing the occurrence of these different explosions.

How do you study volcanoes underwater?

Underwater volcanoes are difficult to see directly, but in practice it is easy to see their structure, as they can be seen from above by sending seismic waves from a boat. These waves also reach the basement of the volcano, giving you a much more detailed and complete view of the interior than you can do on land. Some submarine volcanoes, such as the Axial Seamount off the coast of Oregon, are even equipped with cameras and pressure sensors.

Do solar activity and tidal forces affect volcanic eruptions?

I have never seen evidence of a link between solar activity and volcanoes, but there are some documents of the small effects of tides. If the volcano is very close to an eruption, it is slightly more likely to erupt when there is a change in force caused by the tide. Maybe someone will find a connection with the activity of the sun, it’s the beauty of science. Just ask a question and experiment.

How did the pandemic affect volcanology?

Pandemic Do fieldwork It has a silver lining because it not only travels with you, but also invites colleagues who live far away to a remote seminar or workshop to interact with you. As a general trend, I think the pandemic has highlighted the importance of direct and accurate scientific communication. People need to understand what is happening and how science affects what they are experiencing.

You asked: Why is it so difficult to predict a volcanic eruption? You asked: Why is it so difficult to predict a volcanic eruption?

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