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New study could help predict volcanic eruptions earlier and better than ever before

Researchers studied 60 volcanoes spanning nine countries to predict the factors that influence the frequency, size and composition of volcanic eruptions.

New study could help predict volcanic eruptions earlier and better than ever before
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Clive Kim

Volcanic eruptions can cause massive disasters, posing significant threats to humans, animals, and plant life. Predicting eruptions early is crucial to mitigate their impact. Currently, predictions are based on the volcano's activity and a few layers beneath it, often giving a warning only right before an eruption. However, a study published by Science Advances suggests a new method that could predict eruptions much earlier, improving safety measures and outcomes.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Archie Binamira
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Archie Binamira

The study takes researchers 20 kilometers beneath the Earth's surface, where rock first turns into magma before rising, according to PHYS.ORG. Researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Bristol are investigating factors like frequency, composition, and size of volcanic eruptions worldwide. Their findings link two factors to eruption frequency: the time it takes for magma to form in deep reservoirs and the size of the reservoir for each volcano.

The study covers the most explosive eruptions that have occurred in countries spanning from America to Indonesia, reports "We expanded our research deeper than most prior studies, focusing on magma's origin point where extreme heat transforms solid rock into liquid magma deep below," shared Dr. Catherine Booth, a key author of the study. The study combined real-world observations and computer simulations to understand the formation and movement of magma in the reservoirs beneath the surface in greater detail. "Contrary to what was previously thought, it appears that the buoyancy of magma, influenced by its temperature and chemical makeup, is a critical factor in causing eruptions," Booth revealed.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Brent Keane
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Brent Keane

As per the study, when magma becomes lighter than the surrounding rocks, it becomes capable of rising to the surface. Hence, it increases the possibility of an eruption. The size of the eruption depends upon the storage of magma in shallower regions. The longer the magma is stored in these reservoirs, the less violent the eruption gets. The size of the reservoir also has an interesting impact on eruption. Larger reservoirs can dissipate heat more, leading to slow magma production and less intense eruptions. The research also pointed out that most eruptions are part of a repetitive cycle of eruptions over being an isolated event. The presence of a compound called Silica also impacts volcanic eruptions. If the Silica content is high in magma, it tends to be more viscous and more explosive, per PHYS.ORG.


"Our study not only advances our understanding of volcanic processes but also enhances the models that help predict these events," Matt Jackson, study co-author, explained. "Our study had some limitations: our model focused on how magma flows upwards and the source reservoirs in our model contained only molten rock and crystals. However, there is evidence that other fluids such as water and carbon dioxide are also found in these source reservoirs and that magma can swirl and flow sideways," he added, highlighting the limitations and the possibility for the group to conduct further research to take the other complexities in account.

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