Extreme Science in Volcanology

July 06, 2017

Photo courtesy of GeoArc

Scientists are using extreme science to install a lava monitoring system around a lava lake of Masaya volcano in Nicaragua.

Gas sensors and a temperature probe will be deployed around a bubbling lava lake convecting at almost 100 km/h in hopes of extracting valuable data.  SFU partnered with GEOARC, a non-profit organization specialising in extreme science expeditions, to deploy over 1.1 km of rope directly above the lava lake to enable the lowering of equipment into the crater.

Volcanologist Glyn Williams-Jones has been studying volcanoes in Central America for over 20 years. The recent formation of a lava lake at Masaya volcano has given him a rare opportunity to help launch a series of experiments above a rapidly overturning molten lava lake.

Williams-Jones explains that a lava lake is a skylight that provides a window into the much broader magma system beneath the crater. “This gives us a chance to see part of what is going on underneath the surface,” he says. Getting access to this window is no small feat given the fact that the lava lake is at the bottom of a 500-m wide, 400-m deep crater.

Williams-Jones says that the temperature and gas data will provide information on the toxicity of the gases that are being emitted and the degree of dilution that takes place as it travels downwind towards populated areas.

 “We hope to collect data that will be extremely useful for volcanologists, biologists, and atmospheric scientists. The hard data will be critical in confirming whether our current models are realistic”.  He adds, “Visually, it’s absolutely awe inspiring to look at something this vigorous. We know what happens scientifically, but to see it and to know that this is a small window of a much larger system is absolutely mind blowing.”

For this first of its kind experiment in the Central American Volcanic Belt, SFU forged unique partnerships with multiple for- and non-profit organisations including GEOARC, Alphasense.com, the Petzl Foundation, the International Volcano Monitoring Fund and the Government of Nicaragua.

You can follow the daily progress of the experiment on Facebook at GeoArc.Organization and Instagram, @_geoarc