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Nature Publishes Volcano Research

ICTP post-doc is lead author

A better way to pinpoint where volcanic eruptions are likely to occur has just been published in Nature Geosciences. The lead author, Ian Hamling, is a postdoctoral researcher in the Tectonophysics and Earthquake and Volcanic Studies group (TEVOS) of ICTP's Earth System Physics section.

By studying a rare sequence of 13 magmatic events – where hot molten rock was intruded into a crack between the African and Arabian plates – Hamling and co-authors found that the location of each intrusion was not random, but were linked because each event changed the amount of tension in the Earth’s crust.

The findings will help scientists to more accurately predict where volcanic eruptions could strike and contribute to efforts to limit the damage they can cause.

Hamling, who completed the analysis as part of his PhD in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds said, "It’s been known for some time that a large earthquake has a role to play in triggering subsequent earthquakes, but until now, our knowledge for volcanic events has been based on isolated cases. We have demonstrated that volcanic eruptions can influence each other. This will help us predict where future volcanic eruptions are likely to happen."

Hamling and co-authors studied the region around a large volcanic dyke--a vertical crack that is created when Magma seeps from underground through rifts in the surface of the earth--which erupted in the Afar desert (Ethiopia) in September 2005.

The Magma--hot molten rock--was injected along the dyke between depths of 2 and 9 km, and altered the tension of the earth. The team was able to watch the 12 smaller dykes that subsequently took place in the same region over a four-year period.

By monitoring levels of tension in the ground near where each dyke was intruded they found that subsequent eruptions were more likely in places where the tension increases.

"If you look at this year’s eruptions at Ejafjallajokull in Iceland, by estimating the tension in the crust at other volcanoes nearby, you could estimate whether the likelihood of the eruption has increased or decreased. Knowing the state of stress in this way won’t tell you when an eruption will happen, but it will give a better idea of where it is most likely to occur," Hamling said.

The ESP-TEVOS group, led by ICTP staff scientist Abdelkrim Aoudia, is using numerical modelling and geophysical and geodetic data to decipher the physics and behaviour of earthquake faults and dormant volcanoes.


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