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Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing (2017)

Chapter:6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science

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Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
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6

Grand Challenges in Volcano Science

Our understanding of the life cycle of volcanoes is poised for major advances. The field of volcano science has evolved from one dominated by a description of deposits firmly rooted in geologic traditions, to a multidisciplinary field that also exploits the latest satellite and ground-based measurements, high-performance computing, and new field and laboratory instrumentation. The key questions, research priorities, and new approaches highlighted throughout this report can be summarized by three grand challenges. These challenges are grand because they are large in scope and will have important results, and they are challenges because great effort will be needed.

Developing conceptual models of volcanic systems as well as physics- and chemistry-based models that can inform forecasting requires the integration of data and methodologies from multiple disciplines. These include remote sensing, geophysics, geochemistry, atmospheric science, mathematical modeling, and statistics. Addressing this grand challenge also requires new understanding of basic processes, rates, and thresholds (see Chapter 2), which will come from using new instruments and approaches for exploring volcanic systems and from interdisciplinary research. National Science Foundation–supported programs that have successfully enabled cross-discipline collaboration include SEES (Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability), CMG (Collaboration in Mathematical Geosciences), and CSEDI (Cooperative Studies of the Earth’s Deep Interior), but such programs have been underutilized in volcano science.

Understanding of eruption processes and hazards have benefited from advances in technology and computation (Section 5.4). Forecasting is critically dependent on the quality and accessibility of databases (Section 5.5). Access to and support of analytical, computational, and experimental facilities (Section 5.2) are essential for volcano science.

Determining the life cycle of volcanoes is key for interpreting precursors and unrest (see Chapter 3); revealing the processes that govern the initiation, magnitude, and longevity of eruptions (Sections 2.2 and 2.3); and understanding how magmatic systems evolve during the quiescence between eruptions (Section 2.1). However, our understanding of the volcano life cycle is spatially biased by the small number of volcanoes studied in detail, and temporally biased because large eruptions are rare in the modern instrumental era. Data from satellites and expanded ground-based

Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
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monitoring networks can overcome some of these observational biases, as can extending observations to the ocean basins. A useful goal is to have at least one seismometer per volcano, complemented by extensive ground-based monitoring at a smaller number of high-priority volcanoes, global and daily satellite imaging of deformation, and the ability to measure passive CO2 degassing from space. Geologic studies, augmented by cored scientific drilling and geophysical imaging of volcanic systems, remain necessary to understand volcanism over longer periods of time. These are large-scale projects.

Emerging technologies, including inexpensive sensors and drones and new microanalytical geochemical methods, provide previously unimagined opportunities. Monitoring strategies can be informed by the emerging understanding of volcanic processes, and can be tailored to the geological setting and expected behavior. Maintaining and expanding monitoring capabilities, and supporting the infrastructure to make historical and monitoring data available (Section 5.5), are essential for advancing understanding of volcanic processes and assessing volcanic hazards.

Volcano science often advances substantially following well-studied eruptions. However, many eruptions occur at poorly monitored volcanoes in both populated and remote regions. The research community needs to be prepared to monitor or respond to volcanoes globally. Such preparations involve strengthening multidisciplinary research, domestic and international partnerships, and training networks (Section 5.1).

Individual academic departments in the United States are too small to support all the areas of research that must be integrated to study volcanoes. Large-scale, multi-institutional training networks and research partnerships, between government agencies and universities around the world, are critical for providing the breadth and depth of expertise needed to prepare and sustain professionals in volcano science (Section 5.3).

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)–academic partnerships can support the mission of the USGS by expanding the available community of scientists studying volcanoes, and in training the next generation of professionals engaged in volcano science (Section 5.6). A variety of models for such partnerships exist. For example, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the Southern California Earthquake Center have been successful in promoting partnerships for earthquake science.

In summary, huge strides have been made to understand volcanic systems on a variety of scales. It is undeniable that conceptual models of volcanic phenomena are vastly improved compared to those of a few decades ago. Yet the volcano science community is not yet adequately prepared for the next large eruption. The fundamental challenges summarized in this report will require sustained effort over years to decades, but must be addressed before eruption forecasting is routine and precise. The ongoing eruption at Bogoslof volcano, Alaska (Box 6.1) highlights these three grand challenges, why they remain timely and why they are important. The community is poised to move forward with a broad, interdisciplinary effort to obtain key data, assimilate data and models, and understand the four-dimensional structure of magmatic systems. By addressing these three grand challenges, volcano science can help quantify the global effect of eruptions and mitigate hazards, benefiting the millions of people living in volcanically active areas.

Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×
Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×

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Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×
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Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×
Page89
Suggested Citation:"6 Grand Challenges in Volcano Science." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/24650.
×
Page90
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Volcanic eruptions are common, with more than 50 volcanic eruptions in the United States alone in the past 31 years. These eruptions can have devastating economic and social consequences, even at great distances from the volcano. Fortunately many eruptions are preceded by unrest that can be detected using ground, airborne, and spaceborne instruments. Data from these instruments, combined with basic understanding of how volcanoes work, form the basis for forecasting eruptions—where, when, how big, how long, and the consequences.

Accurate forecasts of the likelihood and magnitude of an eruption in a specified timeframe are rooted in a scientific understanding of the processes that govern the storage, ascent, and eruption of magma. Yet our understanding of volcanic systems is incomplete and biased by the limited number of volcanoes and eruption styles observed with advanced instrumentation. Volcanic Eruptions and Their Repose, Unrest, Precursors, and Timing identifies key science questions, research and observation priorities, and approaches for building a volcano science community capable of tackling them. This report presents goals for making major advances in volcano science.

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