Today’s Solutions: February 08, 2023

When it comes to science and dealing with disasters, sometimes it’s not about preventing the disaster but making sure that everyone is safe after. We don’t even need to make predictions about natural disasters with 100 percent certainty. Sometimes all you need is a little warning that something might happen, and people are better for it. 

This is the case with a team of New Zealand vulcanologists who developed a system that helps predict volcanic eruptions. 

Machine learning on volcanoes 

A vulcanology and earth sciences research team from the University of Canterbury studied the recordings of GeoNet seismometers, which measure ground noises and vibrations, before the 18 eruptions from six active volcanoes around the world. 

They used machine learning to analyze the recording data and found similar changes in frequencies in the volcanoes before the eruption. The vibrations would get slower, possibly meaning that there was a blockage, or a seal had formed within the volcano, and pressure was building that could result in an explosion. 

“This pattern started to emerge, in our experience, around three weeks before the eruption and it peaks around two and four days before the event,” said Dr. Alberto Ardid, Natural Resources Engineering postdoctoral fellow. 

“However, it is important to point out that we have observed this sealing mechanism without any eruption related,” he said. The pressure can release on its own, or it can result in an eruption. All that this new program says is that it is more likely to happen now.  

Vulcanologists’ ultimate, perhaps very far-off goal, is to develop a system that accurately and reliably predicts the eruption of a volcano. This, however, has not yet been discovered. What this new system does is give us a more accurate prediction of what will happen based on previous data. What they hope to do with this system is forecast a 10-20% chance of an eruption in the next 48 hours, enough time to make sure people near the eruption would be safe.  

Source Study: Nature CommunicationsSeismic precursors to the Whakaari 2019 phreatic eruption are transferable to other eruptions and volcanoes | Nature Communications

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