NASA satellite data could detect volcanic disturbances years before eruptions

New research methods using satellite data can detect volcanic eruptions years in advance.

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks said that large-scale thermal disturbances measured using a statistical analysis of longitude infrared data Satellite-based long-wave waves revealed that the latest steam and magmatic eruptions from five different volcanoes were preceded by large-scale, albeit subtle, multi-year increases in their “radiant heat flux.”


Although there are already recognizable signs that a volcano is likely to erupt, including seismic activity, changes in gas emissions, and sudden ground deformation, accurate predictions are complicated.

Furthermore, no two volcanoes are exactly alike, and few of the world’s active volcanoes have adequate monitoring capabilities.

“Volcanoes are like a box of mixed chocolates: they may look similar, but inside there is a lot of variety between them and sometimes even within,” study co-author Paul Lundgren from JPL said on Tuesday. liberation of the space agency. “On top of that, only a few volcanoes are well monitored, and some of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes are those that erupt less frequently, which means that historical records cannot be strictly relied on.”

Seismologists were able to instruct San Vicente residents to evacuate the “red zone” around the island’s La Soufriere volcano due to increased seismic activity just hours before its eruption on Friday.

Ash rises into the air as La Soufriere volcano erupts on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Tuesday, April 13, 2021 (AP Photo / Orvil Samuel).

Ash rises into the air when La Soufriere volcano erupts on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, Tuesday, April 13, 2021 (AP Photo / Orvil Samuel).

The director of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Center for Seismic Research, Erouscilla Joseph, told Fox News that the team had started to see the first seismic tremor in the area early Thursday morning.

NASA explained that the team of scientists had analyzed more than 16 years of radiant heat data from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

The statement also noted that despite the differences in the types of volcanic eruptions under scrutiny, the researchers’ conclusions were consistent.

“In the years before an eruption, the radiant surface temperature over much of the volcano increased by about 1 degree Celsius from its normal state. It decreased after each eruption,” the agency wrote, later adding that scientists theorize. increasing heat. it can result from the interaction between magma reservoirs and hydrothermal systems.

“We attribute large-scale thermal disturbances to the enhancement of underground hydrothermal activity and suggest that such analysis of satellite-based infrared observations may improve thermal balance limitations of volcanoes, early detection of pre-eruption conditions. and the evaluations of the volcanic alert levels. “, concluded the abstract of the article.

Now, the scientists will test their method on more volcanoes.


Adjusting their method and using what they have learned to supplement existing tools could potentially save lives.

“One of the goals is to one day have a tool that can be used in near real time to verify volcanic activity in volcanic areas,” lead author Társilo Girona told NASA. “Even for small eruptions, there is evidence of thermal distress prior to the onset of the eruption event, so the new method helps us get a little closer to that goal.”

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