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Scientists Could Soon Predict Volcanic Eruptions

Oct 06, 2016 at 5:47 PM ET

The average month sees about 40 volcanic eruptions worldwide. It’s possible to predict many eruptions days, even weeks before they happen, but that requires constant monitoring of volcanoes and careful analysis of years’ worth of data to understand how particular volcanoes work. Neither of those is a particularly easy task, but the benefits to having advance warning of when an eruption occur can be enormous. That’s why geologists working on behalf of the Deep Carbon Observatory are clambering up 15 of the 150 most active volcanoes on the planet to install state-of-the-art monitoring equipment. These new monitors make use of recent discoveries in how the ratios of the gases carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide change in the hours before an eruption. Getting a better understanding of just how those gas variations work and how accurately they can predict future eruptions could go a long way toward geologists being able to forecast when a volcano is going to blow. All this new data joins what’s already available on the Smithsonian Institution’s recently launched E3 App, which compiles data from the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program and the United States Geological Survey to provide an interactive guide to the last 50 years of volcanic eruptions. The app isn’t just for geologists to go hunting for patterns – you’re also invited to play around with the app and see what you can find in all the data.