The University of Illinois has activated a one-of-a-kind volcano prediction modeling project. The program, which harnesses the computing power of university supercomputers like Blue Waters and iForge, correctly predicted an eruption in Ecuador's Sierra Negra in June 2018.
The research was published in Science Advances, e I link it to you here. And it has, as it is easy to imagine, a very long gestation. It starts in 2008, when researchers have reconstructed in detail (in terms of data, of course) the eruption of the Okmok volcano in Alaska. Monitoring the activity of the Sierra Negra volcano in 2017, to the geologist Patricia Gregg it came to mind to compare the data collected with those of the model obtained years earlier from the volcanic eruptions of the Okmok.
It was just a test, of course, but it delivered astounding results.
Predict volcanic eruptions months in advance
According to the comparison (made in January 2018) between the data of the Sierra Negra and the model developed thanks to the Okmok volcano, between 25 June and 5 July of that same year the rocks that supported the magma chamber of the Sierra Negra risked shattering, leading to volcanic eruptions.
This prediction-conclusion was presented at a scientific conference two months later, in March 2018.
"After the presentation," says Gregg, "we got busy with other jobs and didn't look at our models again until a colleague wrote me an email on June 26, asking me to confirm the date we had planned. Sierra Negra it exploded exactly one day after our first scheduled date. "
Given the volcano's past activity, Sierra Negra undoubtedly represents an ideal case to test such a model: but the results are so encouraging that Gregg and her collaborators are working to improve the model's prediction capabilities for other volcanoes.
"We now have a lot of data from the Sierra Negra as well, in addition to that from the Okmok and we are starting to look at other eruptions," says the researcher. The target? Provide forecasts for any active volcano around the world, and months in advance.
Not bad, given the fact that the latest efforts (by New Zealand researchers) they aimed to get "just" 48 hours early on an eruption.
Fortunately, Vesuvius seems calm. They say.