Estelle Bonny, a graduate student in the SOEST Department of Geology and Geophysics, and her mentor, Hawaii Institute for Geophysics and Planetology (HIGP) researcher Robert Wright use NASA satellite data to test a hypothesis published in 1981 predicting that when the rate of the lava reaches zero, the eruption has ended.
The rate refers to the lava that exits the vent quickly and rises to a peak and then reduces to zero, which takes over a long period of time.
HIGP faculty created a system that uses invisible measurement made by NASA’s MODIS sensors to find and measure the heat emissions from erupting volcanoes. Heat is an important factor to retrieving the rate of lava flow.
“The system has been monitoring every square kilometer of Earth’s surface up to four times per day, every day, since 2000,” said Bonny. “During that time, we have detected eruptions at more than 100 different volcanoes around the globe."
With the peak flow, researchers were able to reveal where the volcano was along the predicted curve of decreasing flow and predict when eruption will end. This method is what researchers will continue to use during ongoing eruptions.
“This study is potentially relevant for the Hawaii island and its active volcanoes,” said Wright. “A future eruption of Mauna Loa may be expected to display the kind of pattern of lava discharge rate that would allow us to use this method to try to predict the end of eruption from space.”