A team of researchers at the University of Illinois have launched a unique volcanic forecasting modelling programme. While this programme runs on the university’s Blue Waters and iForge supercomputers, the model had earlier successfully predicted a eruption in the Sierra Negra volcano in Equador in June 2018.
The research has been published in Science Advances under the title, “Forecasting mechanical failure and the 26 June 2018 eruption of Sierra Negra Volcano, Galápagos, Ecuador.” Notably, in 2017, geology professor Patricia Gregg set up the model on the university’s super computers. However, at the same time , another team was also monitoring the developments at the Sierra Negra volcano. The model was initially developed on an iMac computer and proved to be successful after the recreation of the eruption of Okmok volcano (in Alaska) in 2008.
Gregg and her team completed the test run in January during the winter break in 2017-18. Even as it was a test, the model played a crucial role in helping to understand the volcano’s eruption cycles and also on the timing of future eruptions.
“Our model forecasted that the strength of the rocks that contain Sierra Negra’s magma chamber would become very unstable sometime between June 25 and July 5, and possibly result in a mechanical failure and subsequent eruption. We presented this conclusion at a scientific conference in March 2018,” Gregg said in a press statement.
She added, “After that, we became busy with other work and did not look at our models again until Dennis texted me on June 26, asking me to confirm the date we had forecasted. Sierra Negra erupted one day after our earliest forecasted mechanical failure date. We were floored.”
Gregg further pointed out that Sierra Negra volcano has telltale signs of eruptions in the past. This includes things like gas release, groundswelling, and an increase in seismic activity. This made the volcano an ideal case for testing the model.