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Los Alamos Volcanologist: apply lessons from meteorology

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory : 28 May, 2007  (Technical Article)
Reducing the danger posed by volcanoes will require volcanologists to integrate data from throughout volcanology to build predictive simulations and models, according to Greg Valentine, a volcanologist at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory.
By effectively integrating geological, geochemical, geophysical, and remote-sensing data through the use of geographic information systems, or GIS, volcanologists will be able to create easy-to-understand visualizations of volcanoes.

Valentine pointed to the field of meteorology, which for years has integrated satellite images and surface measurements into effective predictive models and visualizations, as a well-known, successful example of this approach.

'In order to see major advances in reducing volcanic danger, volcanologists must come together and integrate their various subfields and specialties, which until now have often remained separate. Much good work is done in volcanology, but just as it happens in other fields, too often we don't talk to our colleagues and try to put all of the pieces together,' said Valentine, who leads the Geoanalysis Group at Los Alamos.

Valentine put out this call to his volcanologist colleagues in a presentation made at a session of the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. His talk was part of an AGU session on the future of volcanology.

Valentine, who co-authored the talk with Geoanalysis Group member Gordon Keating, said that his goal is for volcanologists in the future to be able to predict potential eruptions and provide meaningful information and warnings to city planners, emergency responders and nearby populations. To accomplish this, he said that researchers will need to start working together to integrate data and research from all of the subfields of volcanology.

This integration, he said, can be greatly facilitated by relying on Internet-based GIS and numerical simulations to build digital models of a given volcanic system, from its deep magma plumbing up to its surface expression, including infrastructure and other societal data in the vicinity of the volcano.

Valentine said that approximately 200 million people live near active volcanoes and could some day be directly impacted by an eruption. Similarly, he said that volcanic information could be helpful for city planners and others looking at development.

'Volcanologists are in luck, though, because there are great examples in other fields of how this type of cooperation and integration can take place,' Valentine said. 'For instance, you don't have to look further than your local television news to find examples from meteorology.' Other examples exist in environmental remediation and petroleum reservoir management.

Meteorologists rely heavily on predictive models and visualizations that can be easily understood by the public. Similarly, scientists involved in environmental cleanup or remediation efforts have successfully integrated geologic and hydrogeologic models of cleanup sites with detailed data of the known contaminant boundaries to build simulations that predict the extent of contaminant plumes.

Valentine believes that volcanology is ripe for the same types of integration that have led to successful outcomes in other fields. Integrating information such as fluid and solid dynamics models of magma chambers with GIS databases allows for effective simulation and visualization. Based on this information, decision makers can predict eruption dynamics for different scenarios, overlay model predictions on infrastructure and other cultural data, and ultimately come up with improved risk estimations.

Integration efforts similar to those described by Valentine were articulated by Flavio Dobran and his colleagues in Italy around a decade ago and are beginning to take root in the volcanic hazards programs of some countries. However, Valentine said, the power of this integrated approach needs to be recognized and more broadly adapted throughout the volcanology community.
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