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Listening for the big bang

Acoustic signals to forecast volcanic eruptions

Munich, 05/21/2008

Volcanic activity often results in catastrophic explosions with loss of life and extensive damage to the environment. Forecasting models, such as the material failure forecast method, mainly rely on the seismicity of the rock. It is clear, however, that magma as well plays an important role in the events leading to an eruption. This hot and molten rock inside the volcano becomes discharged during eruptions and is then called lava. But first magma experiences a severe deformation and undergoes a transition from ductile to brittle. And this cracking may hold the – audible – key to forecasting lava dome eruptions. A research team under the lead of Yan Lavallée, a member of Professor Donald B. Dingwell’s group at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universiät (LMU) München, has now for the first time used acoustic emissions to track the deformation of lavas. As reported in the science journal “Nature”, so-called dome lavas are seismogenic. The character of this seismicity changes markedly across the ductile-brittle transition until complete brittle failure occurs – and the volcano erupts. “We conclude that magma seismicity, combined with failure forecasting methods, could potentially be applied successfully for volcanic forecasting,” says Lavallée. “We’re now interested to see if our technique will hold its own when it’s tested in areas of volcanic unrest.”


“Seismogenic lavas and explosive eruption forecasting”,
Y. Lavallée, P.G. Meredith, D.B. Dingwell, K.-U. Hess, J. Wassermann, B. Cordonnier, A. Gerik, J.H. Kruhl,
Nature, May 2008


Professor Dr. Donald B. Dingwell
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the LMU
Tel.: +49-89-2180 - 4136


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