Karsten Spaans is a PhD student working in the Institute of Geophysics and tectonics at the University of Leeds. His research focuses on the monitoring of volcanoes using satellite radar. Today he writes about the aims and goals of the Futurevolc project.
The hazard of volcanoes stems as much from their economical consequences as from their potential to kill. Floods and pyroclastic flows take most casualties, while ash can severely disrupt air traffic over large areas, as happened during the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Our limited understanding of the plumbing systems and processes beneath volcanoes mean that the only way to mitigate these hazards is to monitor them as closely as possible. Monitoring the volcanoes will give us the ability to give out early warning and track the evolution of eruptions, and communicate these observations and their interpretations to authorities and the general public. The observations will also help us gain a better understanding of what happens beneath the surface of the the volcanic systems. While there are certainly many scientists studying volcanoes, using many different techniques, an integrated approach, where different techniques are combined, is often lacking. Realising this, the idea for the FUTUREVOLC project was born, led by Prof. Freysteinn Sigmundsson at the University of Iceland.
FUTUREVOLC is an EU funded project involving 26 partner institutions and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). The goal of FUTUREVOLC is to take the next step in volcano monitoring, through setting up an interdisciplinary monitoring system, development of new methods to evaluate volcanic events/crises and increasing the effectiveness of information flows to civil protection, authorities and the general public. The project is divided in several work packages, each focusing on a different aspects of monitoring volcanoes. There are work packages dealing with communication and the distribution of information, outreach of the project, and of course several packages aimed at improving the science. These include long term magma tracking, detecting imminent eruptive activity and early warning, and determining eruption parameters once eruptions are ongoing.
We, at the University of Leeds, are involved in the long term magma tracking package. I work on setting up processing techniques that allow us to rapidly extract surface deformation measurements from satellite radar images. By doing this in a fast way, and combining this with GPS and seismic data, we can track magma in near-real time. Tracking the magma in near-real time will provide valuable information on the likelihood of an impending eruption, and even after eruptions have started, it will give us hints on what might happen next. Civil protection and aviation authorities would then be able to base their decisions regarding evacuation and airspace closures based on the information provided by us, and other contributors to the projects.