A new study released on Wednesday suggests that researchers may be able to predict the potential impact of future volcanic eruptions before they happen.
A team of researchers, including Professor of Volcanology at the University of Manoa, Bruce Hutton, identified subtle seismic markers within earthquakes during the 2018 Kilauea eruption that are believed to coincide with the viscosity of magma moving underground.
Hutton said the earthquake signature was similar to that detected around volcanoes with more viscous and less liquid magmas. Therefore, the presence of this signature can be used to determine whether an impending eruption will have slower or faster lava.
“The boon to save the 2018 eruption was that the oldest and most viscous lava was the one that erupted first,” Hutton said. “Obviously that was very damaging to the homes around it. But that lava flowed slowly, nothing like what destroyed Kapoho and Vacationland. … Only after new lava started coming out of what was then called Fissure 8 did we start to have this The fastest flow. “
The viscosity of magma can usually only be determined after it has appeared on the surface as lava. But by looking for the signature, researchers might be able to get advance warning about how dangerous a lava flow would be before it happened, although Hutton said it might not be particularly far away.
“Not months in advance, but it might take weeks in advance,” he said. “Certainly, several days’ warning.”
Hutton added that weeks of advance notice will help determine the scope of a potential evacuation, particularly if the lava flow is more resilient and dangerous.
While Hutton said the signature will likely be a little different from volcano to volcano, he hopes the finding will translate into direct and practical uses, rather than just curiosity.
For example, he said, the signature could warn of upcoming changes to the ongoing eruption of the Vagrad volcano in Iceland. This volcanic eruption began on March 19 after eight centuries of inactivity.
While more viscous magma can be a leading factor for less dangerous pyroclastic flows, it poses risks in other ways. Since more viscous magma can prevent gas leakage from a volcano, it may lead to more powerful volcanic eruptions.
Houghton said researchers are monitoring recent earthquakes around Kilauea looking for the signature, but they indicated that the lava involved in the continuous eruption is fresh and liquid, and likely will not bear the signature.
Hutton and other researchers’ findings are published in the scientific journal Nature.
Email Michael Brestovansky at [email protected]
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