How to predict a volcanic eruption: new methods and possibilities

A group of scientists from Oxford University (UK) has concluded that predictions of eruptions can be significantly more accurate and, most importantly, in advance. This requires data on the pressure near the volcano and the composition of the gases in the vent.

The traditional version states that the general mechanism of preparation for an explosive eruption is as follows: the magma, in which gases are dissolved, begins to cool and become stone, so that the gases are concentrated in a shrinking volume of still liquid magma. At the moment of saturation, bubbles from these gases begin to form, the pressure inside the magma chamber grows, and sooner or later the “carbonated” magma bursts to the surface – and we see an eruption at the surface.

New methods for predicting eruptions

The question is how to predict when bubbles begin to form – and then the process goes more or less in a straight line – so that measures can be taken to mitigate the damage. According to the model built by the authors of the paper, the concentration of water in the magma remains low until almost the very end and rises to dangerous levels already at low temperatures shortly before the eruption.

Scientists suggest that it takes much less than decades or even centuries to prepare for an eruption, as previously thought. Gas bubbles form in a volcano’s vent only a few days, months at most, before the actual eruption.

Signs of an approaching catastrophe

So the ‘ballooning’ of the ground, due to the rise in pressure inside the volcano, and the outpouring of gases can therefore be regarded as signs of an approaching catastrophe. This is not the easiest way to predict, but the results are also useful in showing how studying a volcano after it has erupted can show the process leading up to an eruption, and hence make it possible to highlight the most important signs for each particular volcano.

So far, however, volcanic eruptions are virtually impossible to predict. A volcano that has been asleep for decades may wake up at any moment, as happened, for example, with volcano Calbuco in Chile, which woke up in April 2015 after almost forty years of “hibernation,” or with volcano Wolf in the Galapagos Islands, which woke up in May 2015 after 33 years of “rest.


Volcanic eruptions are a phenomenon that cannot always be predicted. However, new research methods allow scientists to obtain more accurate data about the pressure near the volcano and the composition of the gases in the vent, which can help predict when bubbles start to form and take measures to mitigate damage. Signs of impending catastrophe can be seen as the “ballooning” of soil and the outpouring of gases. It is important to study volcanoes after an eruption in order to understand the process leading up to an eruption and to identify the most important signs for each particular volcano.

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