Researchers develop a model to predict the next location of volcanic eruption

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island of stromboli
The Stromboli stratovolcano off the coast of Sicily has erupted continuously for thousands of years, giving rise to its nickname "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean" (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

Every volcanic eruption is not a catastrophe such as Mount Vesuvius where fire and flying rocks attack the unsuspecting Pompeiians. Sometimes the summits of the volcano collapse and forms depressions which are several miles wide known as the calderas that are peppered by eruptive vents. When magma forces out of the vents, the small eruptions can spew huge amounts of gas and lava. 

However the locations and level of threats of the vents are quite difficult to predict as the eruptions can occur several miles from the center of the caldera. Because of this, the cities which are located near the volcanic fields such as Naples face a constant risk of volcanic ash, gas and bursts of lava. But a group of scientists have figured out how to accurately pinpoint where on a volcano’s surface or in a caldera’s volcanic fields these damaging vent eruptions are likely to occur.The study has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Calderas are very hazardous and they have fed catastrophic eruptions on Earth which is often underestimated by the local residents. Eruptions of Mount Kilauea in Hawaii last year forced almost 1500 people to flee their homes. Eleonora Rivalta, study’s lead author said that lava comes out from the vents like fountains that leaks like a slug through the landscape. Scientists hope that their model would help communities anticipate and prepare for the eruptions in a better way. 

Magma which is the liquid rock under the crust of the Earth makes most of the mantle of our planet. Magma pushing its way to the surface creates volcanic eruption. It surges upward as it takes the path of least resistance. So figuring out the path would help the researchers in predicting where it will next breach through the surface. This is intended to achieve by Rivalta’s team. Researchers found that the easiest path is for the magma to move through the rocks which are less compressed than the other counterparts. Geologists had earlier thought that path of least resistance would be an existing path, however, Rivalta’s team found that vents are often used by the magma only once and never again used. Computer models were made for future magma paths and researchers compared their predictions to the known eruptive behaviour of the vents across Campi Fleigrei located outside Naples. 

This volcanic field is 8 miles wide and first erupted almost 50,000 years ago. The most recent eruption was in 1538. The model developed by the researchers accurately mapped the 70 eruptions over the past 15,000 years of Campi Fleigrei that includes the dangerous Monte Nuovo eruption of 1538.

278,880 people around the world were killed by volcanic activity and its consequences such as starvation, tsunami between 1600 and 2017. However, the deaths related to volcanic eruptions have decreased from 1980 as the recent eruptions have occurred away from the densely populated areas. Rivalta wants to use her group’s model to provide information to cities about the impending eruptions. She also wants to apply this to Mount Etna and the supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park. This volcano last erupted more than 640,000 years ago which created a 1500 square mile of the caldera for new magma appearance. 

Journal Reference: Science Advances

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