This research, mainly funded by the Leverhulme Trust, uses glaciers to identify, monitor and predict periods of volcanic activity.
Many active volcanoes globally are occupied by glaciers, and many infamous eruptions have involved the melting of glacial ice – e.g., the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens (USA), the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz (Colombia), and the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (Iceland), to name but a few. These glaciers are often seen as problematic, since they exacerbate volcanic hazards (e.g., by melting and thereby causing flooding), and can limit, or prevent, field-based volcano monitoring.
Mount Hudson from ASTER satellite after the October-november 2011 eruption, clearly visible black tephra cover.
However, glaciers can also be useful. In particular, because glaciers often respond to volcanic unrest in observable ways - by fracturing, melting, accelerating, and/or advancing - they are potential indicators of past, ongoing, and/or imminent volcanic activity. For example, glacier advance and acceleration at Volcán Peteroa (Chile) in 1991 and 2010 was an early warning of an imminent explosion; and in 2009 glacier melt at Mount Redoubt (Alaska) was an early indicator of an eruption. Despite such examples, the potential of glaciers as indicators of past, present and imminent volcanic activity has yet to be fully tested or exploited. This is something we will address in this study. Specifically, we will use variations in glacier behaviour (dimensions and dynamics) to identify and monitor past, ongoing or imminent periods of volcanic activity. In so doing, the project aims to develop a new, cost-effective and unique method of monitoring ice covered volcanoes worldwide and provide a new predictive tool or volcanic activity and its potential impacts.