You may already know how satellites are being used to research natural disasters, including monitoring the Earth’s movement to predict landslides. Now, researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) recently discovered that infrared satellite data could be used to predict when lava flow-forming eruptions will end.
SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics graduate student Estelle Bonny, along with her mentor Robert Wright, tested a hypothesis first published in 1981 that detailed how lava flow rate changes during a typical effusive volcanic eruption. When lava flows during a volcanic eruption, the model says, it quickly rises to a peak rate and then tapers off much more slowly. When the lava stops flowing altogether, the eruption is over.
Using existing infrared satellite data on volcanic eruptions, the team was able to measure the rate of lava flow by measuring the amount of heat. They then used the existing model to predict when the lava flow would end. The results of the model and the satellite data matched up, confirming that the 1981 model was indeed accurate. Their findings were published in the July issue of Bulletin of Vulcanology.
It’s not hard to see how this will make a difference to those who live in areas with active volcanoes. “Being able to predict the end of a lava flow-forming eruption is really important because it will greatly reduce the disturbance caused to those affected by the eruption, for example, those who live close to the volcano and have been evacuated,” said Wright. The next step will be to turn this into a predictive model.
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