Satellites may predict when a volcanic eruption will end

The research is based on a 1981 predictive model of lava flow.

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Swapna Krishna
July 14th, 2017
In this article: satellite, space, tomorrow, volcano
Getty Images/Flickr RF
Getty Images/Flickr RF

We've discussed how satellites are being used to research natural disasters, including monitoring the Earth's movement to predict landslides. Now, scientists have begun using satellite data to predict when volcanic eruptions' lava flow will end.

Graduate student Estelle Bonny, along with her mentor Robert Wright, drew from a 1981 hypothesis on the flow rate of lava during a volcanic eruption. When lava flows during a volcanic eruption, the model says, it quickly rises to a peak rate and then tapers off much more slowly. When the lava stops flowing altogether, the eruption is over.

Using existing infrared satellite data on volcanic eruptions, the team was able to measure the rate of lava flow by measuring the amount of heat. They then used the existing model to predict when the lava flow would end. The results of the model and the satellite data matched up, confirming that the 1981 model was indeed accurate. Their findings were published in the July issue of Bulletin of Vulcanology.

It's not hard to see how this will make a difference to those who live in areas with active volcanoes. "Being able to predict the end of a lava flow-forming eruption is really important because it will greatly reduce the disturbance caused to those affected by the eruption, for example, those who live close to the volcano and have been evacuated," said Wright. The next step will be to turn this into a predictive model

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