CALIPSO monitors pulse of Soufriere Hills volcano

Dec 17, 2004

A unique monitoring system in place on the island of Montserrat can record the everyday changes beneath the Soufriere Hills volcano and throughout the island, according to an international team of volcanologists.

The CALIPSO project (Caribbean Andesite Lava Island Precision Seismo-geodetic Observatory) is the first volcano monitoring system of its type installed at an andesitic volcano. Andesite volcanoes are the most important volcano type making up the Earth’s Ring of Fire, and have caused more fatalities than any other type of volcano. Intended to improve the understanding of how these volcanos erupt, the system investigates the dynamics of the entire magma system below the island.

“We had the system working just in time for the largest lava dome collapse ever seen anywhere,” says Barry Voight, professor of geosciences at Penn State. “Montserrat is the only place where such an array of monitoring tools, including strain meters, surround the volcano,” he told attendees at the fall 2004 meeting of the American Geophysical Conference in San Francisco.

The CALIPSO system features four bore holes, each 600-foot deep and 4.5 inches in diameter through most of its depth. The width of the last 30 feet is a bit narrower to accommodate the equipment, which must be bonded to the surrounding rock. Each bore hole houses a super-sensitive strain meter, a seismometer and a tiltmeter and a geographic positioning system sits above on the ground surface.

“The ground is a 100-times quieter down there than at the surface,” says Voight. “We can record smaller events and deeper events than would be possible on the noisy ground surface, and we can record measurements continuously all day long.”

By comparing the measurements with a computer model of the volcano, the researchers can begin to understand what is happening beneath the surface. The active magma reservoir system may extend to a depth of 10 miles, with its top about 3.5 miles deep. The researchers hope they will be able to measure the position, size and shape of the existing magma reservoir, the quantity of new magma inflow and the physical characteristics of the magma. They also hope to learn more about the earthquake mechanics associated with the dynamic volcanic system.

The institutions involved in the CALIPSO project include Penn State, University of Arkansas, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Duke University, Bristol University (UK), Leeds University (UK), Arizona State University and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Andesitic volcanoes occur throughout the world in such places as Japan, Indonesia, the Andes, the Aleutian Islands and the North American Cascades. They often form lava domes when active. These lava domes can fail, causing either lava block avalanches or violent explosive hurricanes of hot ash and gas that can travel many miles and destroy everything in their paths. These explosive releases cause the most damage to life and property.

The Soufriere Hills Volcano has erupted on and off since July 1995. The latest dome collapse occurred in 2003 and explosions occurred in March and April 2004. Since then the surface activity of the volcano has quieted down, but activity at depth continues, as indicated by the monitoring system. While the volcano has only been active for the past nine years, the island shows a long history of volcanic activity extending back thousands of years.

Now that the CALIPSO equipment is in place, the researchers plan an island-wide experiment using 100 to 150 additional seismographs. From the data collected, the scientists will create a tomographic image of the island similar to PET scans done by hospitals. The scan will show the current and past magma chambers and provide an underground, three-dimensional map of the island and the volcanic system.

Source: Penn State

Explore further: Russian, American ready for a year in space

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What's beneath Hawaii's most active volcano?

Mar 03, 2015

Step away from the villages and idyllic beaches of Hawaii, and you may think you've been transported to the moon. Walking along the lava flows of the Kilauea volcano, the landscape changes from a lush tropical ...

Understanding the copper heart of volcanoes

Feb 09, 2015

The link between volcanism and the formation of copper ore has been discovered by researchers from the University of Bristol, UK. Their findings, published today in Nature Geoscience, could have far-reaching implic ...

To speed up magma, add water

Feb 02, 2015

It was a bit like making a CT scan of a patient's head and finding he had very little brain or making a PET scan of a dead fish and seeing hot spots of oxygen consumption. Scientists making seismic images ...

Hawaiian Islands formed through extrusive volcanic activity

Sep 03, 2013

Scientists generally believe that the Hawaiian Islands formed primarily through endogenous growth, or intrusion, in which hot magma intrudes into a rock and then solidifies before it reaches the surface. However, a new study ...

Recommended for you

Russian, American ready for a year in space

10 hours ago

The Russian astronaut heading off for a year in space says he'll miss the natural landscapes on Earth. His American counterpart jokes he won't miss his twin brother.

Galaxy clusters collide—dark matter still a mystery

16 hours ago

When galaxy clusters collide, their dark matters pass through each other, with very little interaction. Deepening the mystery, a study by scientists at EPFL and the University of Edinburgh challenges the ...

Using 19th century technology to time travel to the stars

21 hours ago

In the late 19th century, astronomers developed the technique of capturing telescopic images of stars and galaxies on glass photographic plates. This allowed them to study the night sky in detail. Over 500,000 ...

Image: The colors of sunset over the ISS

23 hours ago

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took these images from the International Space Station during her six-month mission. The Progress cargo ship and Soyuz crew spacecraft reflect sunlight as our star sets ...

Feud on Earth but peace in space for US and Russia

Mar 26, 2015

Hundreds of kilometres below on Earth, their governments are locked in a standoff over Ukraine—but up in space, Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts are still working together side by side.

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.