On television, the eruption of volcano shoots magma right out of the top. However, it is not so uncommon that magma erupts from the volcano’s flank rather than its summit. After leaving the underground magma chamber, the magma forces its way sideways by fracturing rock, sometimes for tens of kilometres. Then, when it breaches the Earth’s surface, it forms one or more vents from which it spills out, sometimes explosively. This, for example, occurred at Bardarbunga in Iceland in August 2014, and Kilauea in Hawaii in August 2018.
It is a big challenge for volcanologists to guess where magma is heading and where it will breach the surface. A lot of effort is spent on this task, as it could minimize the risk for villages and cities endangered by eruptions. Now, Eleonora Rivalta and her team from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam and institutional collaborators have devised a new method to generate vent location forecasts. The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
“Previous methods were based on the statistics of the locations of past eruptions,” says Eleonora Rivalta. “Our method combines physics and statistics: We calculate the paths of least resistance for ascending magma and tune the model based on statistics.” The researchers successfully tested the new approach with data from the Campi Flegrei caldera in Italy, one of the Earth’s highest-risk volcanoes.