Early warning for waking volcanoes, study shows

Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 5:16 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Since Alaskans live along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the occasional eruption of a volcano is expected.

Of the 130 volcanoes in Alaska, more than 50 of them have erupted within the past 261 years. Getting an advanced warning that a volcano might be waking up can help protect people and property.

New research came out last week that shows volcanoes start showing signs of activity long before steam appears in the crater or earthquakes start to rumble. The researchers looked at satellite data from the past 20 years, studying five different volcanoes, including Mount Redoubt.

“Basically, we find that volcanoes are able to release a lot, a significant amount of heat over very large areas in the volcanic mountains,” said Társilo Girona, a volcanologist and research professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It’s not something that is constrained only to the crater area, but is something going on in large areas of the volcanic edifices and we see that the signal starts to appear for several years before the onset of these eruptions.”

That heat signal shows that a seemingly quiet volcano is getting ready to reactivate.

“We observed these signals also before volcanic eruptions that typically don’t show any kind of unrest,” Girona said. “These types of eruptions are typically called phreatic eruptions or gas explosions and typically they don’t show any kind of unrest, they just happen, but we observed these thermal signals appeared before the onset of those kinds of eruptions.”

Girona says they will continue to work with the data and methodology to use it in “near real time monitoring of volcanoes so we can use this technique to greater anticipate volcanic activity.”

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