How volcano scientists are teaming up to stop the next big disaster

Source(s): Bustle Digital Group

By Emma Betuel

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The idea of WOVOdat was forged during Mt Saint Helens eruption, but it was actualized after other volcanoes or calderas (large volcanic craters) started to rumble in the early '80s. In 1982, a caldera in California started showing suspicious activity, and Newhall, like the scientists before him, started searching for comparable cases.

Eventually he found them, but it took Newhall and a colleague five years to compile all the relevant information. The process, he reflects, would have been “hard to do in crisis mode.”

The laborious research was a reminder that WOVOdat, Newhall’s idea as a graduate student, was still a necessity. He took early, exploratory steps towards WOVODat by establishing ties with like-minded scientists. One expert, Steve McNutt, now at the University of South Florida, was even working on his own volcano database. Still, it was just a start and far from as comprehensive as Newhall envisioned. WOVOdat wouldn’t truly take off until 2009.

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Until every volcano observatory is contributing regularly, WOVOdat’s work won’t be done, but it’s making headway in a critical place. Mount Merapi, a volcano in Indonesia, has been in a “state of crisis” for two years, says Costa. It’s becoming a proving ground for WOVOdat.

It has already erupted once in 2021, creating a blast that could be heard as far as 18 miles away. In early January, about 500 people living near the volcano were evacuated.

Costa and the WOVOdat team have been working with the Merapi Observatory team for two years to clean and analyze 20 years of earthquake data. That data is good enough to help scientists estimate the probability that an eruption will happen if a certain amount of tremors are felt.

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Hazards Volcano
Country and region United States of America
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