Measuring incipient lava dome collapse

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology


At some volcanoes lava piles up above the vent to produce a lava dome. Such domes are prone to collapse and produce dangerous pyroclastic flows and explosions as the hot and pressurized interior lava is suddenly exposed. So understanding how, and importantly, when, these collapses are likely to occur is of prime importance, specifically to the scientists at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory who are responsible for monitoring the ongoing activity of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. There are many theories as to what causes the collapses at Soufriere Hills, but two factors stand out. Firstly, heavy rainfall often precedes a collapse and secondly, there is often a change in the plumbing that the lava uses to reach the surface. We plan to develop a method of measuring this 'change in plumbing' to give some warning of collapse. We have already developed a new, portable, radar-based instrument for use on volcanoes called AVTIS (All-weather Volcano Topography Imaging Sensor) that can measure the shape and temperature of the lava dome day and night and through cloud. This technology is a unique application for volcanoes. Further development of this type of instrument will enable us to measure changes in the rate and location of lava extrusion associated with the collapse-triggering re-plumbing of the lava dome. These new observations will be coupled with the observatory's data from small earthquakes associated with this process. A computer model of the re-plumbing that is hidden from view will be constructed and run to help understand the mechanics of how the process works. In order to achieve the necessary measurements a new instrument will be built that is faster, more accurate and can operate autonomously from a fixed position. The aim is to have an instrument that is effectively on all the time, sending data back to the Observatory. In addition, we will upgrade the current instrument and use it from different viewpoints, to capture the parts of the dome not visible from the fixed instrument.


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Odbert H (2009) Time series analysis of lava flux in Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research

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Hale A (2009) Modelling the lava dome extruded at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, August 2005-May 2006 in Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research

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Hale A (2009) Modelling the lava dome extruded at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, August 2005-May 2006 in Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research

Description Together with my collaborators at the University of St Andrews and Lancaster University (joint awards EO16154/1 and EO15352/1) we designed built and tested a novel type of radar to help monitor the UK's only active volcano - Soufriere Hills Volcano on Montserrat. This followed on from an earlier phase of instrument development also funded by NERC (NE/E001734/1 and E001726/1). We showed that the radar (AVTIS) is capable of monitoring the shape and temperature of the dangerous growing lava dome through cloud as intended. This helped understand the location and rate of growth of the lava dome and from that the likelihood of dome collapse, which is the main source of hazards at the volcano. It was then adopted for operational use by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. We also used the TerraSAR-X satellite radar intensity data as a change detection tool to monitor the development of the hazardous pyroclastic flows at Montserrat during 2008-2010.
Exploitation Route Other volcano observatories could use AVTIS. Other volcano observatories could use the SAR change detection method developed by us.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

Description Our impact has mainly been on the operational practices of the Montserrat Volcano Observatory who have used one of our AVTIS radars to monitor the Soufriere Hills Volcano.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Societal

Description Deployment of AVTIS and the use of TerraSAR-X data at MVO 
Organisation Montserrat Volcano Observatory
Country Montserrat 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 1. We developed and tested the All-weather Volcano Topography Imaging Sensor (AVTIS) radar over nearly 10 years with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO). 2. During the episode 5 eruption we developed a method to rapidly map and analyse the impact of pyroclastic flow deposits on the Soufriere Hills volcano using TerraSAR-X radar intensity images that was used by MVO staff in their operational management of the crisis.
Collaborator Contribution 1. MVO has provided laboratory and field support for the testing of the prototypes of AVTIS. Since 2011 they have managed the operational use in the field of AVTIS-3 with our help. 2. MVO have now adopted the TerraSAR-X data as an operational tool.
Impact The two techniques described above allow MVO to better manage the volcanic activity and its social impact.
Start Year 2010