Alaska Researchers Say Distant Volcanic Roars Can Help Detect Volcanic Eruptions

Posted: Apr 5 2016, 9:23am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

Alaska Researchers Say Distant Volcanic Roars can Help Detect Volcanic Eruptions
Steam and gas plume rising from Alaska's Cleveland Volcano in 2014. Credit: John Lyons/ Alaska Volcanic Observatory/ USGS

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Low frequency acoustic waves can help detect, locate and monitor volcanic eruptions

The roaring sound generated by volcanic eruptions can reveal important details about the eruption hazards.

Alaska-based researchers used sophisticated techniques to locate and detect airwaves produced by recent eruptions at Cleveland, Veniaminof and Pavlof volcanoes in Alaska and came up with some interesting obeservations.

Erupting volcanoes produce a sound similar to thundering jet engines which is loud enough to shake the nearby ground. Using seismometers, this shaking, called ground coupled airwaves, can be detected and hint on the size, location and magnitude of an erupting volcano.

“This study shows how we can expand the use of seismic data by looking at the acoustic waves from volcanic explosions that are recorded on seismometers,” said lead researcher David Fee Alaska Volcanic Observatory and Wilson Alaska Technical Center. “The techniques we used provide an automated way to detect, locate, characterize and monitor volcanic eruptions, particularly in remote, difficult to monitor regions like Alaska.”

Ground-couple airwaves or GCAs occur when acoustic wave in the atmosphere interacts with Earth’s surface and picking up that sound was not possible without actual erupting volcanoes in the region.

Researchers placed seismometers in remote parts of Alaska and close to the chain of Aleutian Islands during the volcanic activity between 2007 and 2015 and analyzed seismic data obtained from networks installed. They particularly looked at GCA signals from a May 2013 eruption in Mount Cleveland, one of the most active volcanoes in Aleutian arc. Using the signals, researchers were also able to locate active vents on Veniaminof and Pavlof mount.

Generally, eruptions from volcanoes are detected by satellite fly overs but this technique can track low frequency acoustic waves by ground-based seismic networks. It provides complementary information on what is going on subsurface and could possibly prove effective in monitoring, understanding and forecasting volcanic eruptions.

“Volcanic explosions can sometimes be difficult to detect seismically, but the GCA can provide unambiguous evidence that a volcano is erupting,” said Fee. “We can also use GCA to locate eruptive vents and identify changes in eruption style.

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