The Challenges of Forecasting the Eruption of Kilauea May 16, 2018

Special Thanks to University of Hawaii Professor Dr. Kenneth Rubin for breaking down what to expect with the Kilauea eruptions.

Over the past few days, various media outlets were littered with doomsday headlines and predictions of a Kilauea eruption. While an explosive eruption can’t be ruled out, it’s also not a sure bet. I talked with a few volcanologists to get the lava low-down.

To understand how scientists predict eruptions, it helps to know the basics of volcanic eruptions. First off, a volcano can erupt explosively in violent fashion as well as effusively in a slower manner. The current activity on Hawaii’s Big Island has shown signs of both explosive and effusive eruptions.

Explosive eruptions occur when pressure builds in the heart of the volcano, eventually bursting, spewing ash and rock thousands of feet in the air. To better predict these eruptions, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) monitors volcanoes with lasers, webcams, and satellite imagery. Though this data provides some insight, it’s impossible to know the full picture.

Dr. Janine Krippner, a volcanologist at Concord University, has grappled with the uncertainty of forecasting volcanic eruptions for years. Krippner says there’s “enormous complexity of these ever-changing systems.” Similar to meteorologists forecasting the weather, volcanologists, “look at a range of possible scenarios and use monitoring tools to work out which is more likely,” said Krippner.

A particularly challenging aspect of volcanology is the inability to actually see what the magma is doing. Earlier this month a lava lake was present at the Halema’uma’u Crater, but it has since retreated. Dr. Kenneth Rubin, a professor at the University of Hawaii, comments, “It’s basically dropped out of sight. We don’t have a direct line of sight of it anymore.”

Volcanologists rely on the shifting land, above the magma, to determine the subsurface movement. Knowing the tilt of the volcano or “deflation” is crucial for understanding these variations. Dr. Rubin explains how this tilt is measured, “Deflation is measured by instruments that shoot lights at each other across the caldera. They look at changes of location and the angle. This can determine if the volcano is inflating or deflating.”

Even though the magma within the volcanic conduit is currently out of sight, volcanologists can extrapolate the relationship between the volcano’s tilt and magma depth to determine the current height. Forecasting when the magma will interact with the water table (which can result in an explosive eruption) introduces an entirely different challenge.

Scientists can normally pinpoint where the water table is but when magma and heat get involved, this location is thrown for a loop. Rubin says, “Even though there was magma at the depth of the water table, there’s no water in that vicinity because it had been dehydrated out of the ground.” The magma essentially alters which part of the ground remains saturated by evaporation.

At the end of the day, volcanologists can form a reasonable idea of when conditions are just right for an eruption but, as Rubin indicates, “We actually don’t know when it will happen. That’s what causes a lot of uncertainty.” Unfortunately, this uncertainty is not always effectively communicated by the mainstream media.

During the Agung eruption, fear-mongering headlines were plentiful. Dr. Krippner remembers the frustrations of event, “Headlines caused people to cancel their vacations to the island of Bali – an island that relies on tourism. People suffered because of this loss of business.”

Also at stake is the all-important trust between the public and scientists, “I would imagine having so much conflicting information out there (what the science says versus what the headlines sometimes say) doesn’t do wonders for people’s trust in what we say. People deserve to have the correct information,” Krippner said.

In the era of fake news, people do deserve to have the correct information.

To aid that mission, listed below are several solid and trusted sources for everything relating to the Kilauea Volcano.

USGS

Dr. Janine Krippner’s blog

Hawaii County Civil Defense

———————————–

Written by Dakota Smith.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tweets

UNDER WATER - Check out this area almost unrecognizable at Lake Travis in Texas from all the heavy rain on Thursday… https://t.co/y7t25i1mLu

2 hours ago by WeatherNation

FLOODING from heavy rain continues to impact the Lone Star State. If you think it's been a wet few months, you're r… https://t.co/K3iw8vx9zJ

4 hours ago by WeatherNation

Fire weather warnings go into effect for southern California early Friday morning! #CAwx https://t.co/4FVppf5uM1

5 hours ago by WeatherNation

MICHAEL UPDATE - We check in with Bay County, FL to get the latest on what's happening post-#Michael @BOCCPIO https://t.co/BqfH4vEBHV

6 hours ago by WeatherNation

WATCH: We're continuing to track the deadly flooding in #Texas. Watch as residents caught pieces of the 2900 Bridge… https://t.co/UiPrnQmkCX

7 hours ago by WeatherNation

First responders were called in to evacuate a group of campers after #flood waters got a little too close for comfo… https://t.co/uTpxAPVqgn

8 hours ago by WeatherNation

While most buildings in #MexicoBeachFl were reduced to rubble by #HurricaneMichael, ONE stood tall and strong. Hear… https://t.co/71K6gcRmt2

9 hours ago by WeatherNation

Good morning sunshine... I mean snow... ❄️I mean... what day is it? People in New Hampshire had a nice, little dus… https://t.co/VhjONOUShg

10 hours ago by WeatherNation

RT @WeatherNation: A look at the forecast in Houston for game 5 of the American League Championship Series tonight, along with game 6 in Mi…

11 hours ago by WeatherNation

A look at the forecast in Houston for game 5 of the American League Championship Series tonight, along with game 6… https://t.co/mSHNV9bAE8

11 hours ago by WeatherNation

More rain is on the way for Texas. This time, it's heading to the gulf coast. But how much? https://t.co/KLq9rZSKCe

12 hours ago by WeatherNation

Rain, Rain, Go Away. Texas continues to add impressive rain totals to their compartment as a soggy stretch of weath… https://t.co/lFZDv49vHb

14 hours ago by WeatherNation

Airborne research looks into the connection between smoke and clouds: https://t.co/zEzh9Oqqoq https://t.co/j0hFqiRBSn

14 hours ago by WeatherNation

NOAA's @NWSCPC issues their Winter forecast - warmth for much of the nation: https://t.co/9y4yJX6nFM https://t.co/JB0O2eZUzu

14 hours ago by WeatherNation

The #WinterOutlook is out! NOAA predicts a wetter than normal winter for most of the southern U.S., and generally w… https://t.co/ZZMnExyXBN

14 hours ago by WeatherNation

NEW VIDEO - More drone footage captures what will undoubtedly take years to recover from in Mexico Beach, Florida..… https://t.co/amOQLuwQuJ

15 hours ago by WeatherNation

It's a crisp start to the morning in Boston where wind advisories are waking up residents in the area. Still a pret… https://t.co/9nfjPZtiaL

17 hours ago by WeatherNation

NEW THIS MORNING - Upstate New York is waking up to a few snowflakes on the ground, their first official snowfall o… https://t.co/0FuBamF0jV

18 hours ago by WeatherNation

The Lake Effect Snow Machine was cranked up on high Wednesday across parts of Michigan, and although it's taking a… https://t.co/QW6IpDrOsZ

18 October by WeatherNation
Follow Us