Research into how volcanoes erupt led by Durham University’s Earth Sciences Department is taking volcanologists a step closer to being able to predict when and on what scale volcanoes will erupt.
In the three-year EU Erupt Project, funded by almost half a million euros of EU Framework 5 funding, scientists from seven European universities are working on four volcanoes. They have developed new techniques to examine what happens underground before a volcano erupts and how magma develops and have made a considerable breakthrough in dating past geophysical events that preceded eruptions. A key set of clues comes from the study of cores and rims on crystals which have grown from the magmas, which can be read like tree rings.
Using this new technique, volcanologists can now correlate data from traditional volcanology – the study of deposits from past volcanoes (or ‘volcanic autopsy’) to date previous eruptions, with geophysics – which offers a real time snapshot of state of a volcanic system. For example the team working on Vesuvius dated a magmatic event which appears to correspond to the occurrence of an earthquake 17 years before the volcano famously erupted in AD79. The importance of this is that for the first time volcanologists can set a timescale on the impact of geophysical activity on magma systems and interpret the link to volcanic eruptions or hazards.
Jane Budge | alfa
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