Volcano Monitoring Program Searches Iceland For Early Signs Of Eruptions
May 23, 2013

Volcano Monitoring Program Searches Iceland For Early Signs Of Eruptions

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new collaborative project called FutureVolc is aimed at trying to improve monitoring of Iceland's volcanoes.

FutureVolc started October 1, 2012 and is funded by the Environmental/FP7 program of the European Commission. The project says its main objectives are to establish an integrated volcano monitoring system through European collaboration, develop new methods to evaluate volcanic crises, increase scientific understanding of magmatic processes and improve delivery of relevant information to civil protection and authorities.

Iceland is a high volcanic-risk area at an international level because it contains over 30 active volcanic systems that can generate powerful eruptions. When Eyjafjallajokull erupted back in 2010, it disrupted parts of the European airspace. Similar eruptions also took place in 1991, 1998, 2000 and 2004. Eyjafjallajokull has been said to cost the airline industry $2 billion.

"Volcanoes actually scream 'I'm about to erupt'," Dr Matthew Roberts of the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) told the BBC. "Before they erupt they show many measurable signs, and it's the challenge for today's volcanologists to actually gather all that information and make use of it in real time and that's exactly what FutureVolc is about."

Iceland is capable of producing a wide spectrum of volcanic activity, and many of its volcanoes are located under ice caps, which could lead to phreatomagmatic eruptions. These eruptions often generate plumes over six miles high and carry ash great distances.

FutureVolc relies on existing networks in order to monitor some of these volcanoes. Many of the most active volcanoes in Iceland are located under ice caps, such as Mýrdalsjökull and Vatnajökull, so networks close to the volcanoes has not been possible. In order to monitor these volcanoes significant strides need to be made. This is where FutureVolc's partner Guralp Systems comes in.

Guralp Systems will develop a seismic instrument in the project to increase monitoring level and enable tracking magma movements through migration of micro seismicity and through detailed analysis of earthquake source mechanisms. The instruments will focus on real-time processing of detected signals for early warning of a volcanic eruption.

"It is the aim of FutureVolc to address the issue of improving the estimates of the mass eruption rate in explosive eruptions in a decisive way through a multi-parameter approach," the project wrote. "To achieve this, a variety of sensors will be implemented and combine into a unique system that estimates mass flow rate from a volcano in near real time to real time."

In March the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police declared one of the country's most active volcanoes, Hekla, in an "uncertainty phase" because it is showing signs of potential activity. Geologists said there was unusual seismic activity on the mountain in March, but there was no sign that an eruption was imminent.