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Volcanic Eruptions: The Key to Forecasts is Knowing the Magma

Aug 31, 2015 01:30 PM EDT
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Infrared footage shows Vanuatu volcano erupting

Volcanic eruptions have always been hard to predict since it's difficult to fully understand the warning signs. However, when the earth begins to shake, many people are put at risk. According to scientists who recently have made strides toward better predicting these events, knowing magma's properties may increase forecasters' accuracy.

Donald Dingwell, Director of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), led a team of geophysicists in simulating volcanic eruptions in their laboratory. Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"To this end, we have carefully monitored the behavior of samples of synthetic magmas under pressure and recorded the micro-signals that herald their ultimate failure," Jeremie Vasseur, a PhD student in Dingwell's group and first author of the study, said in a statement. "Analyzing these precursory signals and how they evolve is akin to analyzing the seismic signals prior to an eruption."

The researchers ultimately discovered that the more heterogeneous, or diverse, a synthetic magma was, the more accurate predictions were. They also noted that less accurate forecasts resulted as the material became more homogeneous. According to their study, properties of magma in real volcanoes can vary greatly depending on how gas-bubbles and crystalline inclusions are trapped.

"Our results imply that the key to forecasting eruptions lies in knowing just how heterogeneous the magma is," Dingwell said. "We will continue our efforts to understand the behavior of magmas in the hope that a comprehensive forecasting tool will someday be within our grasp."

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