Study: Temperature changes on volcano sides could predict eruptions years in advance

A vlacno with smoke coming out in the backgroud
Augustine Volcano viewed from the M/V Maritime Maid on March 27, 2006. (Cyrus Read/Alaska Volcano Observatory)

A University of Alaska Fairbanks scientist led the development of a new technique to predict volcanic eruptions years in advance using satellite imagery to track small changes in temperature on lands around the base of a volcano.

UAF volcanologist Tarsila Girona, and two colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory analyzed 16 years of satellite imagery looking for ground temperature changes around volcanoes.

Girona said their research published last week in the journal Nature Geosciences shows small temperature changes corresponding with volcanic activity.

“It will also have an increase of this release of heat before the onset of the eruptions. Sometime after the eruption, we start to observe a decrease of these heat emissions,” he said.

Girona said temperature increases on the order of 1 degree Celsius over large areas surrounding volcanoes occurred well prior to eruption.

“Increase of these changes in the this temperature, this radiant temperature is starting for a few years before the eruptions,” he said.

Girona said the correspondence held true for several different volcanoes they studied including Alaska’s Mount Readout. He said the next step is to analyze temperature changes on a finer scale to try to more precisely predict when a volcano will erupt.

“(To) explore to what extent we can also observe these thermal changes in shorter timescales. With shorter timescales, meaning from a few days to a few months,” he said.

Girona said the technique can help volcanic eruption forecasting at the UAF-based Alaska Volcano Observatory, and other such facilities around the world.

Girona said one of the next steps is to go into the field and install thermometers in the ground around volcanoes. Girona, who up until last year worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California, has a grant from the space agency to continue collaborating with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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