Volcanoes are unpredictable forces of nature
and there are about 1,500 geologically active ones around the world.
Let that sink in.
This one, Bárðarbunga in Iceland, spewed thousands of cubic feet of molten lava
from a crack in the earth’s crust back in 2014.
But by volcanologists standards, that was considered a peaceful eruption.
Bárðarbunga could erupt explosively again one day,
shutting down air travel and unleashing a level of environmental destruction
that would wipe out roads, homes, and daily life as we know it.
Active volcanoes like this one exist all over the world,
but “active” is sort of a misnomer…
An active volcano can erupt at any time, but it could also not.
That’s the nature of these bubbling cauldrons.
They’re incredibly dangerous and mystifying… and so hard to predict.
Scientists are working hard to figure out when a volcano is going to erupt.
So the best we can do now is whittle a prediction down
to a series of probabilities and best guesses…
And to do this, volcanologists have a few things in their tool kit:
seismometers that can pinpoint the rise and fall of magma,
thermal imaging to detect the heat around a volcano,
and chemical sensors that sniff for volcanic gases like sulfur and CO2.
Even with all of these data points, there’s still no volcano forecast.
No one can say “this will erupt in X days.”
As they work toward getting a forecast,
scientists are adding another tool to their kit: seismic noise interferometry.
It’s like listening to the “whispers” of a volcano.
Let’s break that down.
In a study, researchers analyzed seismic noise moving
through the volcano Kilauea in Hawaii over a four year period.
Seismic noises are low-level vibrations in the Earth;
they come from earthquakes, ocean waves,
or in this case, magma swirling inside a volcano.
By using seismic noise interferometry,
the researchers measured the speed of seismic activity moving through a volcano.
They were able to record how fast the vibrations were traveling
and isolated the noise or “whispers” coming from inside.
By isolating the seismic noise,
scientists were able to identify the sounds that indicate an increase in internal pressure,
which is a warning sign for a future eruption.
Going one step further, the researchers compared those results to a second set of data
which measured the bulging and shrinking of a volcano’s summit over time.
Kilauea is a very active volcano.
As the pressure in its magma chamber increases and decreases,
it is constantly bulging and shrinking.
This makes it a prime candidate for this kind of research.
The researchers found a correlation between the speed
of this volcano’s seismic energy and its bulging and shrinking.
As the magma fills up, it causes an increase in pressure,
which produces much faster seismic waves.
And volcanoes tend to bulge up and out before an eruption.
So, by combining these two data sets,
researchers were able to more accurately predict when an eruption could happen.
Technical improvements like these are bringing volcanologists one step closer to understanding
the inner workings of these explosive mountains and the behaviors that lead to a massive eruption.
We’ve still got more work to do,
but predicting chaos is getting that much more precise.
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Volcanoes spew lava at 1000 degrees Celsius on earth,
but did you know there are volcanoes out in our universe that spew ice?!
Learn more about galactic ice volcanoes here.
And have you ever visited a volcano or want to one day?
Let us know in the comments and subscribe for more Seeker.
Thanks for watching.