How do you forecast eruptions at volcanoes that sit 'on the cusp' for decades?

August 06, 2019

Washington, DC--Some volcanoes take their time--experiencing protracted, years-long periods of unrest before eventually erupting. This makes it difficult to forecast when they pose a danger to their surrounding areas, but Carnegie's Diana Roman and Penn State's Peter LaFemina are trying to change that.

"Dormancy, brief unrest, eruption--this is a familiar pattern for many volcanoes, and for many parents," joked Roman. "But for some volcanoes the unrest is anything but brief--potentially lasting for decades.'"

It turns out that these so-called "persistently restless volcanoes" experience three different states of unrest, some of which are more likely to result in explosive eruptions than others, according to Roman and LaFemina's 10-year research project on the Telica Volcano in Nicaragua. Their latest results are published by Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

"Persistently restless volcanoes remain right on the cusp of being about to erupt, periodically tipping into outright eruption," explained lead author Roman.

She, LaFemina and an international group of collaborators found that Telica experienced three states of unrest during the decade of their observations--two of which may lead to eruptions.

The first is accompanied by relatively steady release of gas as well as changes in seismic activity. In this state, gas can move easily through and out of the system of cracks and reservoirs underlying the volcano, avoiding pressure accumulations that lead to explosions. But sometimes one of these channels gets sealed off, blocking the release of gas. The second and third states are defined by the strength of the blockage.

The second state is characterized by a series of weak explosions until one comes along that is strong enough to remove the obstruction. However, if the explosions only partially remove the blockage, it can lead to the third, destabilized state, in which pressure rapidly accumulates, driving deformation of the surrounding landscape and large explosions that include ejection of rock fragments. Roman and LaFemina believe that the 2011 eruption of Telica is an example of the former and the 2015 eruption is an example of the latter.

"Over the course of our decade of monitoring Telica, we observed all three of our proposed states of unrest," LaFemina noted. "This reinforces the importance of continuous surveillance efforts."

He and Roman said that their team's findings could lead to a forecasting models for persistently restless volcanoes, but first it is critical to establish similar patterns at other persistently restless volcanoes like Telica.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the EC FP6 Programme, the DECADE/DCO project, and INETER.

Data was obtained though the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Volcano pilot project and working group and the German Aerospace Center. This material is based on services provided by the UNAVCO Facility with support from NSF and NASA. This work was also conducted as part of the "Optimizing satellite resources for the global assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards" Working Group supported by the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Carnegie Institution for Science ( is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events 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