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New Study Shows Promise Turning Volcanic Sound Into Warning Signal for Eruptions

Photo of Jeffrey Johnson
Jeffrey Johnson

A new study led by Boise State associate professor of geophysics Jeffrey Johnson has proven the potential for using volcanic infrasound – inaudible sounds produced by active volcanoes – to help forecast future catastrophic eruptions. The study, titled “Forecasting the eruption of an open-vent volcano using resonant infrasound tones,” was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The study focused on Chile’s Volcán Villarrica, an open-vent volcanic system with a funnel-like geometry of its crater, which makes it particularly efficient for radiating infrasound. Villarrica erupted in the mid-1980s and has since hosted a lava lake in the summit crater. Johnson and his team deployed monitoring stations along the slopes of the volcano  starting in January 2015 to pick up distinctive infrasound activity. By monitoring the acoustic response of Villarrica’s crater, the scientists were able to determine that the volcano’s lava lake started to rise two days before its 2015 eruption of a 1.5 km-high lava fountain.

“This study demonstrates the utility of remote infrasound monitoring for future eruptions of Villarrica and other analogous open-vent volcanoes,” Johnson explained.

Co-authors of the article include Jose Palma from the University of Concepción in Chile; Boise State graduate student Jacob Anderson; Eric Dunham, an associate professor in the Department of Geophysics of the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences; and Leighton Watson, a graduate student in Dunham’s lab.