Scientists have made an important step towards understanding how volcanic eruptions happen, after identifying a previously unrecognised potential trigger.

An international team of researchers from the University of Liverpool, Monash University and the University of Newcastle, including UON’s Dr David Boutelier*,  think their findings could lead to new ways of interpreting signs of volcanic unrest measured by satellites and surface observations.

Dr Janine Kavanagh, from the University of Liverpool’s School of Environmental Sciences and lead author of the research paper, said: “Understanding the triggers for volcanic eruptions is vital for forecasting efforts, hazard assessment and risk mitigation.

“With more than 600 million people worldwide living near a volcano at risk of eruptive activity, it is more important than ever that our understanding of these complex systems and their triggering mechanisms is improved.

“There is also a strong economic incentive to understand the causes of volcanic activity – as demonstrated in 2010 by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, which caused air-traffic disruption across Europe for more than one month, with an estimated US$1.8 billion loss in revenue to the airline industry.”

Studying volcanic processes in nature can be challenging because of the remoteness of many volcanoes, the dangers to scientists wanting to study destructive eruptions up close, and the fact that they are often obscured from direct observation by volcanic ash or rock.

The research is published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Read the FULL STORY in Phys.org.

* Dr David Boutelier is a structural geologist at the University of Newcastle who is interested in the mechanics of plate tectonics. His work investigates the three-dimensional and thermo-mechanical aspects of various plate tectonic processes including subduction, collision and continental break-up. Dr Boutelier uses and develops scaled models of tectonic processes in the laboratory to test hypotheses derived and constrained by geological and geophysical data. The model passes through an evolution that simulates that of the original, though on a more convenient geometrical scale and with a conveniently faster rate. This model evolution can be precisely monitored in space and time, yielding new insights into the physics of the modelled process.

IN THE MEDIA:

The Guardian: Geologists use jelly, lasers and water to unravel mystery of volcanic eruption

The Independent, UK: Are scientists finally close to realising what triggers volcanic eruptions?

Huffington Post: Scientists May Have Discovered A Critical Key To Predicting Volcanic Eruptions