Volcanic eruption signals simulated in lab for first time

Oct 10, 2008 By Paul Fraumeni

(PhysOrg.com) -- For the first time, seismic signals that precede a volcanic eruption have been simulated and visualized in 3-D under controlled pressure conditions in a laboratory. The ability to conduct such simulations will better equip municipal authorities in volcanic hot spots around the world in knowing when to alert people who live near volcanoes of an impending eruption.

The international research team that conducted the experiments at the University of Toronto published its findings in an article in the prestigious journal, Science, on Oct. 10.

Using equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, scientists tested fracture properties of basalt rock from Mount Etna, the active volcano found on the island of Sicily in southern Italy. They were able to record the seismic signals that are routinely generated during earthquakes that occur before volcanic eruptions. The seismic (sound) waves recorded by the team were similar to those emitted by a church organ pipe and are ubiquitous in active volcanic regions.

"The holy grail of volcano research is to be able to predict with complete accuracy when and how exactly a volcano will erupt," said Philip Benson, Marie-Curie Research Fellow in Earth Sciences at University College London (UCL), who conducted the experiments in U of T's Rock Fracture Dynamics Facility. "We are not there yet and, frankly, we may never be able to achieve that level of detail. However, being able to simulate the pressure conditions and events in volcanoes greatly assists geophysicists in exploring the scientific basis for volcanic unrest, ultimately helping cities and towns near volcanoes know whether to evacuate or not."

Benson noted that nearly 500 million people live near enough to the Earth's 600 active volcanoes to endure physical and economic harm should a serious eruption occur. "That is why improved understanding of volcanic mechanisms is a central goal in volcano-tectonic research and hazard mitigation."

The international collaborators in the simulation experiments were Sergio Vinciguerra of the National Geophysics and Volcano Institute (INGV) in Rome, Italy; Philip Meredith of the Rock and Ice Physics Laboratory at UCL; and Paul Young, Keck Chair of Seismology and Rock Mechanics at the University of Toronto and the university's vice-president (research).

Young noted that while this particular rock fracture research focused on volcano dynamics, the knowledge generated from investigation into rock fracturing also has direct application in a wide variety of areas, such as mining, construction of buildings and bridges, oil and gas exploration and in earthquakes and other earth sciences phenomena.

Provided by University of Toronto

Explore further: Radioisotope studies show the continental crust formed 3 billion years ago

Related Stories

What is a terrestrial planet?

Jul 02, 2015

In studying our solar system over the course of many centuries, astronomers learned a great deal about the types of planets that exist in our universe. This knowledge has since expanded thanks to the discovery ...

Creating a stopwatch for volcanic eruptions

Jul 01, 2015

We've long known that beneath the scenic landscapes of Yellowstone National Park sleeps a supervolcano with a giant chamber of hot, partly molten rock below it.

Precarious existence in shadow of Indonesian volcano

Jun 21, 2015

When Indonesian farmer Elfi Dalimunthe fled to safety last week as a volcano hurled hot ash and rocks across the sky, it marked the third time she was forced to abandon her home in recent years.

Recommended for you

ESA image: Northwest Sardinia

16 hours ago

This image over part of the Italian island of Sardinia comes from the very first acquisition by the Sentinel-2A satellite.

Experiments open window on landscape formation

Jul 02, 2015

University of Oregon geologists have seen ridges and valleys form in real time and—even though the work was a fast-forwarded operation done in a laboratory setting—they now have an idea of how climate ...

NASA image: Canadian wildfires continue

Jul 02, 2015

Canada is reeling from an early fire season this year as dozens of fires ravage at least three provinces of the country. All of the following reports are as of July 2, 2015.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.