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With a powerful supercomputer and a modelling program, scientists could correctly predict an impending volcanic eruption in Ecuador — five months before it happened.
Volcanic Eruption and Seismic Activity
A volcanic eruption can be tragic for people and animals living nearby, so researchers often monitor active volcanoes for signals that they may erupt, like increased seismic activity. Officers can then evacuate people from an area if an eruption is forthcoming.
Although, forecasting volcanic eruptions is exceptionally tricky. There are approximately 1,350 potentially active volcanoes around the work (not including in the bottoms of the oceans, such as the eruption at Tonga) and many that do not follow conventional patterns.
The Upgraded Volcano Predictions
In 2017, scientists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign tested an upgraded model for predicting volcanic eruptions, using another team’s data on the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos.
“It is a well-behaved volcano in Sierra Negra is a well-behaved,” said lead researcher Patricia Gregg. “Which means that, before eruptions happened in the past, the volcano was shown all the signs of an eruption that researchers would expect to see like a groundswell, increased seismic activity, and gas release.”
After using the program on supercomputers at the National Center for Supercomputing, they showed their findings at a conference in 2018.
The team did not look at this model again until June 26, when Dennis Geist from Colgate University — a researcher that collected data from the Sierra Negra — asked Gregg to confirm the forecasted dates.
She found that the volcano had erupted for the first time in over 13 years — one day into the replica’s window.
“We are floored,” Gregg said.
A Forecast for Volcanic Eruption
This does not mean we can forecast every and all volcanic eruptions. Sierra Negra was only chosen for the test as it is relatively predictable. In addition, the data needed for the model was readily available — that isn’t the case for most other volcanoes.
Although, the study shows powerful one-way supercomputers can have a real-world impact on the earth and save many lives.