Research Press Release

Predictable volcanic plume heights

Nature Geoscience

January 13, 2014

The changes in the height of the volcanic plume from the 2011 Grimsvotn Volcano eruption in Iceland correlated with changes in ground deformation that had begun about an hour earlier, reports a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience. This link could have helped in predicting the eruption of a 20-kilometre-high ash plume at Grimsvotn, which led to the temporary closure of northern European airspace.

Sigrun Hreinsdottir and colleagues monitored ground movements with GPS measurements while recording the height of the eruption plume at Grimsvotn Volcano, using radar data and photographs from before and during the eruption in May 2011. They found that the height of the eruption plume varied in close tandem with the GPS measurements, indicating that both are controlled by changes in pressure within the volcano’s magma chamber. However, the ground began to deform about an hour before the plume erupted, implying that GPS data could potentially be used to predict the eruption and evolution of an ash cloud.

In an accompanying News and Views article, Paul Segall and Kyle Anderson write: “The study shows that near-real-time ground deformation data can be used to provide timely warnings of imminent eruptions …. Such information could be vital for aviation safety.”


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