NASA satellite data could detect volcanic unrest years before eruptions


New research methods using satellite data may be able to detect volcanic eruptions years in advance. 

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks said that large-scale thermal unrest measured using a statistical analysis of satellite-based long-wavelength infrared data revealed that the last magmatic and steam eruptions of five different volcanoes were preceded by years-long, though subtle, large-scale increases in their “radiant heat flux.”

‘HUGE’ EXPLOSION ROCKS ST. VINCENT AS VOLCANO KEEPS ERUPTING

Although there are already recognizable signals that a volcano is likely to erupt, including seismic activity, changes in gas emissions and sudden ground deformation, accurate predictions are tricky. 

In addition, no two volcanoes are exactly alike and few of the world’s active volcanoes have proper monitoring capability. 

“Volcanoes are like a box of mixed chocolates: They may look similar, but inside there is a lot of variety between them and, sometimes, even within the same one,” JPL’s Paul Lundgren, the study’s co-author, said in a Tuesday release from the space agency. “On top of that, only a few volcanoes are well monitored, and some of the most potentially hazardous volcanoes are the least frequently eruptive, which means you can’t rely strictly on historical records.”

Seismologists were able to instruct St. Vincent residents to evacuate the “red zone” around the island’s La Soufriere volcano due to increased seismic activity just hours before its eruption on Friday. 

Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)

Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)

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