A satellite view of volcanoes finds the link between ground deformation and eruption

April 03, 2014

ESA's Sentinel satellite, due for launch on April 3rd, should allow scientists to test this link in greater detail and eventually develop a forecast system for all volcanoes, including those that are remote and inaccessible.

Volcano deformation and, in particular, uplift are often considered to be caused by magma moving or pressurizing underground. Magma rising towards the surface could be a sign of an imminent eruption. On the other hand, many other factors influence volcano deformation and, even if magma is rising, it may stop short, rather than erupting.

Dr Juliet Biggs and colleagues in the School of Earth Sciences, with collaborators from Cornell, Oxford and Southern Methodist University, looked at the archive of satellite data covering over 500 volcanoes worldwide, many of which have been systematically observed for over 18 years. Satellite radar (InSAR) can provide high-resolution maps of deformation, allowing the detection of unrest at many volcanoes that might otherwise go unrecognised. Such satellite data is often the only source of information for remote or inaccessible volcanoes.

The researchers applied statistical methods more traditionally used for medical diagnostic testing and found that many deforming volcanoes also erupted (46 per cent). Together with the very high proportion of non-deforming volcanoes that did not erupt (94 per cent), these jointly represent a strong indicator of a volcano's long-term eruptive potential.

Dr Biggs said: "The findings suggest that satellite radar is the perfect tool to identify volcanic unrest on a regional or global scale and target ground-based monitoring."

The work was co-funded by the UK Centre for Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) and STREVA, a research consortium aimed at finding ways to reduce the negative consequences of volcanic activity on people and their assets.

"Improving how we anticipate activity using new technology such as this is an important first step in doing better at forecasting and preparing for volcanic eruptions," said STREVA Principal Investigator, Dr Jenni Barclay.

Co-author Professor Willy Aspinall added: "Global studies of volcano deformation using satellite data will increasingly play a part in assessing eruption potential at more and more volcanoes, especially in regions with short historical records or limited conventional monitoring."

However, many factors and processes, some observable, but others not, influence deformation to a greater or lesser extent. These include the type of rock that forms the volcano, its tectonic characteristics and the supply rate and storage depth of magma beneath it. Thus, deformation can have different implications for different types of volcanoes. For volcanoes with short eruption cycles, the satellite record typically spans episodes that include both deformation and eruption, resulting in a high correlation between the two. For volcanoes with long eruption cycles, the satellite record tends to capture either deformation or eruption but rarely both.

In the past, radar images of the majority of the world's volcanoes were only acquired a few times a year, but seismological data indicate that the duration of unrest before an eruption might be as short as only a few days.

Dr Biggs said: "This study demonstrates what can be achieved with global satellite coverage even with limited acquisitions, so we are looking forward to the step-change in data quantity planned for the next generation of satellites."

The European Space Agency is planning to launch its next radar mission, Sentinel-1 in early April. This mission is designed for global monitoring and will collect images every six to twelve days. Using this, scientists should be able to test the causal and temporal relationship with deformation on much shorter timescales.

Professor Tim Wright, Director of COMET, added: "This study is particularly exciting because Sentinel-1 will soon give us systematic observations of the ups and downs of every volcano on the planet. For many places, particularly in developing countries, these data could provide the only warning of an impending eruption."
-end-
Notes to editors

'Global link between deformation and volcanic eruption quantified by satellite imagery' by J. Biggs, S.K. Ebmeier, W.P, Aspinall, Z. Lu, M.E. Pritchard, R.S.J. Sparks, T.A. Mather in Nature Communications

COMET is the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)'s Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics, based at the Universities of Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, Reading, Newcastle, and UCL

STREVA is an interdisciplinary project funded by the NERC/ESRC Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards in Earthquake-prone & Volcanic Regions programme involving the Universities of East Anglia, Bristol, Oxford and Leeds, the British Geological Survey and the Overseas Development Institute.

University of Bristol

Related Volcano Articles from Brightsurf:

Using a volcano's eruption 'memory' to forecast dangerous follow-on explosions
Stromboli, the 'lighthouse of the Mediterranean', is known for its low-energy but persistent explosive eruptions, behaviour that is known scientifically as Strombolian activity.

Rebirth of a volcano
Continued volcanic activity after the collapse of a volcano has not been documented in detail so far.

Optical seismometer survives "hellish" summit of Caribbean volcano
The heights of La Soufrière de Guadeloupe volcano can be hellish, sweltering at more than 48 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) and swathed in billows of acidic gas.

Researchers reveal largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth
Researchers from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa revealed the largest and hottest shield volcano on Earth--Pūhāhonu, a volcano within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Formation of a huge underwater volcano offshore the Comoros
A submarine volcano was formed off the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in 2018.

Volcano F is the origin of the floating stones
Since August a large accumulation of pumice has been drifting in the Southwest Pacific towards Australia.

Researchers discover a new, young volcano in the Pacific
Researchers from Tohoku University have discovered a new petit-spot volcano at the oldest section of the Pacific Plate.

What happens under the Yellowstone Volcano
A recent study by Bernhard Steinberger of the German GeoForschungsZentrum and colleagues in the USA helps to better understand the processes in the Earth's interior beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Geoengineering versus a volcano
Major volcanic eruptions spew ash particles into the atmosphere, which reflect some of the Sun's radiation back into space and cool the planet.

How to recognize where a volcano will erupt
Eleonora Rivalta and her team from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, together with colleagues from the University Roma Tre and the Vesuvius Observatory of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in Naples have devised a new method to forecast volcanic vent locations.

Read More: Volcano News and Volcano Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.