The scientific study of monitoring volcanoes has been growing since 1845, when the first volcano-monitoring observatory was set up.
In a recent article by Sparks, et al., published in Science a team of researchers looks at how technological advances have improved our ability to understand how volcanoes form and develop over time, but highlight the fact that our ability to predict eruptions with a high level of accuracy is still difficult.
Seismic monitoring, global positioning systems, and satellite-based methods like the interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) enable scientists at observatories around the world to map the shape and depth of magma chambers, calculate the severity of a volcanic tremor and identify the differences between a dormant and active volcano.
|Volcanic eruptions are still difficult to accurately predict|
These technological developments in the past few decades have allowed scientists at volcano observatories to predict eruptions and re-classify active volcanoes that were originally thought to be dormant.
However, early warning eruptions still face major challenges globally. False alarms have led to many observatories being mistrusted by the public. Alternatively, tragedies have resulted due to observatories either not warning of an eruption they did not think was going to happen or being unsure whether an evacuation was necessary.
Furthermore, most observatories suffer from underfunding. This has resulted in most of the world’s active volcanoes going unmonitored. There are 441 known active volcanoes in the developing world, however 384 of these have either insufficient monitoring or no monitoring at all. Sixty-five of these active volcanoes are located around large dense urban areas.
Improving monitoring techniques and encouraging governments to invest in volcanic observation centers must be a priority throughout the 21st century.
Sparks, R.S.J., et al. 2012. Monitoring volcanoes. Science 16, 1310-1311.