New Research Looks into Impact of Volcano Cliffs on Data Monitoring


A study led done by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the University of Bristol, and the US Geological Survey has revealed variations in data collected by monitoring equipment depending on the volcano surface. Most volcanoes show vast differences in the nature of their surfaces, but previous studies have not fully considered this occurrence.

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Measuring the Variation in Readings

The research team traveled to Hawaii to conduct their study. They looked specifically at Kilauea volcano, which erupted last year creating a very diverse surface. At some points, there are vertical cliffs of heights as great 500 meters, while at other areas, there are step-wise terraces of between 50 and 150 meters each. This kind of feature in volcanoes is often caused by the large craters formed when the volcanoes collapse or by sector collapse when a side of the volcano slides off.

Studies that look at the deformation of volcano surfaces have not considering the impact of these cliffs and terraces until now. The research team found that monitoring equipment such as tiltmeters placed on the edges of volcano craters can gather misleading data due to the nature of the landscape. Tiltmeters are sensitive instruments used to measure small changes in inclination.

The research team found that cliffs and other landscape features can lead to a reversal in the patterns measures by tiltmeters. Their findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Lead researcher and geophysics lecturer at UEA, Dr. Jessica Johnson, points out the significant impact that tiltmeters have played in understanding volcanoes. As many as 40 volcanoes around the world have been studied using these instruments. The need to take surface features into consideration has been brought to light by the anomalies that were detected in the readings from Kilauea volcano, the findings that launched the investigation. This could have wide implications for monitoring systems.

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