Research from the University of Iceland shows that measurements of ground movement near a volcano and the pressure inside its magma chamber before an eruption can help estimate the height of the ash plume.
Remember the Eyjafjallajökull
When a volcano erupts, it might spew millions of liters of sweltering magma, endangering a lot of people. Or, it could just burp, resulting in a tiny eruption with few social or economic consequences. Now, researchers might be able to forecast which scenario is more likely to occur.
In the study, scientists used data from GPS receivers and tilt meters that measure the inclination of the terrain to show that ground movement near Iceland’s Grímsvötn Volcano corresponded with the height of its ash column. The Grímsvötn eruption, like the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano eruption of 2010, paralyzed European airspace, stranding thousands of travelers and freezing economic activity.
Improved volcano forcasting
The findings by University of Iceland geophysicist Sigrún Hreinsdóttir and her colleagues suggest that by measuring the pressure inside a volcano’s underground magma chamber, scientists can calculate the size and duration of an eruption.
“Improved forecasts could save lives and dollars,” Stanford professor Paul Segall adds. Even though technological advances, especially the increased availability and affordability of GPS receivers, have significantly improved volcano forecasting, Segall says, many volcanoes are still unmonitored and erupt without warning. Yet he thinks volcano forecasting will continue to improve. “We’re optimistic, but it will take time.”