AI news: A Breakthrough Method to Assess Volcano Eruption Risk

What is the risk of a volcano erupting? To answer this question, scientists need information about its underlying internal structure. However, gathering this data can take several years of fieldwork, analyses, and monitoring, which explains why only 30% of active volcanoes are currently well documented. A team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) has developed a method for rapidly obtaining valuable information. It is based on three parameters: the height of the volcano, the thickness of the layer of rock separating the volcano's reservoir from the surface, and the average chemical composition of the magma. These results open new prospects for identifying volcanoes that present the greatest risk and are published in the journal Geology.

The Earth is home to some 1,500 active volcanoes, yet we only have accurate data for 30% of them. This is due to the difficulty of observing their "fuel," the famous magma, which is rich in information. This molten rock is first generated at a depth of between 60 km and 150 km in the Earth's mantle, whereas the deepest human boreholes generally only reach a depth of around ten kilometers, preventing direct observation. The production rate of magma in the Earth's deep crust beneath a volcano determines the size and frequency of future eruptions.

This lack of data is a danger as more than 800 million people live close to active volcanoes. Therefore, in many regions, there is no basis on which to assess the risk a given volcano poses and the extent of the protective measures to be taken—the evacuation perimeter, for example—in the event of a suspected eruption.

Three key parameters

Geochemical and geophysical analysis methods are regularly used by scientists to monitor volcanoes, but it can take decades to gain an in-depth understanding of how a specific volcano works. Thanks to recent work by the team of Luca Caricchi, full professor at the Department of Earth Sciences of the UNIGE Faculty of Science, it is now possible to obtain valuable information more rapidly.

This method uses three easy-to-measure parameters: the height of the volcano, the thickness of the rocks separating the volcano's "reservoir" from the surface, and the chemical composition of the magma released over its eruptive history. The first can be determined by satellite, the second by geophysics and/or chemical analysis of minerals (crystals) in the volcanic rocks, and the third by direct sampling in the field.

Understanding the significance of these parameters is crucial. The height of the volcano provides insights into the pressure exerted on the magma, which can influence the likelihood and intensity of eruptions. The thickness of the rocks covering the magma reservoir impacts the ease with which magma can reach the surface. Finally, the chemical composition of the magma reveals its viscosity and potential to cause explosive eruptions.

By combining these three parameters, scientists can rapidly assess the risk level of a particular volcano. This approach not only accelerates the monitoring process but also enables authorities and communities living near volcanoes to make informed decisions about preparedness and evacuation plans. 

In the case of extremely dangerous volcanoes, this method can help establish safer evacuation perimeters, reducing the risk to human lives and property. Moreover, it allows researchers to prioritize which volcanoes require more intensive monitoring efforts, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently.

The UNIGE team's breakthrough research is a game-changer in the field of volcano risk assessment. With this innovative method, we are one step closer to mitigating the potentially catastrophic consequences of volcanic eruptions. As the global population continues to grow, and more people settle near volcanoes, the importance of accurate and rapid risk assessment cannot be overstated.

In conclusion, the University of Geneva's groundbreaking approach to volcano risk assessment offers hope in a world where volcanic eruptions can have devastating consequences. By utilizing easily measurable parameters, scientists can now assess volcano risk more swiftly and effectively, ultimately safeguarding lives and property in volcanic regions.