On the 3rd of May 2018, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted which left the southeastern part of the island in shambles. Fortunately, no deaths or injuries were reported by the authorities. For the last 35 years, most of the volcano’s magma emerged from a set of fissures (a vent through which lava escapes) in the volcano called the upper east rift zone but since it was less in quantity, the emerging lava caused little to no damage. However, the sudden eruption of the Kilauea volcano got scientists and researchers thinking; can we possibly predict the eruption of volcanoes by studying what factors might have caused them?

Writing for Nature Magazine, Farquahrson and Amelung proposed that perhaps the record-breaking rainfalls in the first quarter of 2018 increased the groundwater pressures due to which the rock was easier to break and magma rose to the surface at new locations resulting in the mass destruction. Different pathways to bring the magma to the Earth’s surface usually occur due to the mechanical failures of rocks either due to the opening of new cracks or the enlargement of existing cracks. As a result of the increase in pressure of groundwater, the fluid pressure increases, due to which rocks are much more vulnerable to falling apart. In addition to that, the volcanic rocks in Hawaii are very permeable due to which water can seep into a depth of several kilometers close to where the magma is usually stored.

To support their hypothesis, Farquharson and Amelung analyzed previous reports of eruptions of Kilauea since 1970 and the data showed that the volcano tends to erupt at a time of heavy rainfall. Knowing that volcanic eruptions influence all surface environments, including climate and weather, the research was conducted in order to be able to predict the eruption of a volcano so that the area can be evacuated to avoid the loss of precious lives. While heavy rainfall and changes in groundwater pressure may just be a small explanation behind the eruption of volcanoes, we are only just beginning to understand the interactions.

References:

When it Rains, Lava Pours:
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01091-4

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