Sentinel satellites to monitor every volcano 

Posted: April 20, 2017 by oldbrew in innovation, Uncertainty, volcanos


It sounds promising, but what happens if the satellites fail to predict a serious eruption? The case of the convicted but later exonerated Italian earthquake experts springs to mind.

A UK-led team of scientists is rolling out a project to monitor every land volcano on Earth from space, reports BBC News.

Two satellites will routinely map the planet’s surface, looking for signs that might hint at a future eruption. They will watch for changes in the shape of the ground below them, enabling scientists to issue an early alert if a volcano appears restless.

Some 1,500 volcanoes worldwide are thought to be potentially active, but only a few dozen are heavily monitored. One of these is Mount Etna where, last month, a BBC crew was caught up in a volcanic blast while filming a report on the new satellite project.

Before a volcano erupts, magma rises from deep beneath the Earth, causing the ground above to swell. It usually starts as a small movement on the flank of a volcano or in its caldera (crater). It may be barely noticeable to the eye, but it can be seen from space.

Regular satellite data recording this change will be processed automatically and an alert issued for scientists to follow up. A “red flag” would not mean an eruption is a given, but it ought to ensure those communities that live in the shadow of a volcano are not caught unawares if the situation deteriorates.

“It’s the volcanoes that are least monitored where this will have most impact. If people can be alerted ahead of time, it could save many lives,” said Prof Andy Hooper.

Continued here.
. . .
The report concludes:

One of the big research questions for scientists is working out if and when a change in the shape of a volcano will lead to an eruption. It can be a long time between the two, perhaps years.

But the statistics suggest it is four times more likely that a volcano that deforms will erupt than one that has not changed its shape.

“It’s not a case that if you see deformation you should evacuate people tomorrow,” said Dr Biggs. “But what we desperately need is more examples, and that is where the Sentinel system is really important because we will be able to track all these volcanoes in a routine and systematic fashion.”

The aim is to have the satellite data on all 1,500 volcanoes being gathered and processed by the end of 2017.

Comments
  1. tom0mason says:

    “A UK-led team of scientists is rolling out a project to monitor every land volcano on Earth from space, reports BBC News. “

    Hopefully they really have this coverage (difficult to tell from the write-up) as eruptions in either polar region would be of some significance.

  2. Curious George says:

    Italian earthquake experts failed to predict an earthquake, not a volcano eruption.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Thanks George – corrected that.

  4. Richard111 says:

    What about the thousands of volcanoes under the sea?

  5. oldbrew says:

    Richard – not many people are directly threatened by those AFAIK.

  6. Gamecock says:

    “Richard – not many people are directly threatened by those AFAIK.”

    And not many people are threatened by the 1,500. Those that threaten are monitored. Like Etna.

    But wait . . .

    ‘Some 1,500 volcanoes worldwide are thought to be potentially active, but only a few dozen are heavily monitored. One of these is Mount Etna where, last month, a BBC crew was caught up in a volcanic blast while filming a report on the new satellite project.’

    Etna IS MONITORED, and yet ‘a BBC crew was caught up in a volcanic blast.’ So what damn good is this monitoring supposed to produce?

  7. oldbrew says:

    Gamecock – the BBC fiasco was just Etna clearing its throat 😉

    I suspect what they want to monitor is something major that would impact the folk who live nearby.
    http://www.campbellsci.eu/mt-etna-volcanic

    They talk of ‘monitoring ground deformation’.

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