Reading: Signs of an Eruption

In 2005 USGS geologist Chris Newhall made a list of the six most important signs of an imminent volcanic eruption. They are as follows:

  1. Gas leaks — the release of gases (mostly H2O, CO2, and SO2) from the magma into the atmosphere through cracks in the overlying rock
  2. Bit of a bulge — the deformation of part of the volcano, indicating that a magma chamber at depth is swelling or becoming more pressurized
  3. Getting shaky — many (hundreds to thousands) of small earthquakes, indicating that magma is on the move. The quakes may be the result of the magma forcing the surrounding rocks to crack, or a harmonic vibration that is evidence of magmatic fluids moving underground.
  4. Dropping fast — a sudden decrease in the rate of seismicity, which may indicate that magma has stalled, which could mean that something is about to give way
  5. Big bump — a pronounced bulge on the side of the volcano (like the one at Mt. St. Helens in 1980), which may indicate that magma has moved close to surface
  6. Blowing off steam — steam eruptions (a.k.a. phreatic eruptions) that happen when magma near the surface heats groundwater to the boiling point. The water eventually explodes, sending fragments of the overlying rock far into the air.


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