Volcanic Monitoring

Safeguarding human lives

One billion people currently live within 150 kilometers of active volcanoes. To safeguard human lives and prevent damage to infrastructure, such as supply chains, these people need ample warning when an eruption is imminent. Monitoring the flux of volatile species, like He, CO2, CO, SO2, H2S and HCl, which are emitted by volcanoes, can help provide clues as to when an eruption might occur. Not only is it important to measure the amount of those gases, but their isotope composition is also an important parameter.

Volcanic gases

Instead of bringing samples back to the lab from the field, researchers can now bring just data, opening new avenues for research. Studies have shown that the ratio of CO2 and SO2 in a volcanic plume, can systematically rise in advance of explosive eruptions. Now that real-time isotope ratio infrared spectrometry (IRIS) can be implemented in the field, researchers can investigate if there are corresponding pre-eruptive changes in δ13C-CO2. This technology has potential to complement other methods of monitoring to forecast volcanic eruptions.

The Trail by Fire expedition determined the flux of gases from volcanoes along the Nazca subduction zone in South America—15 volcanoes in 5 months—to learn how much of the subducted volatile budget is released back into the atmosphere, and how much remains trapped deep in the earth.

Noble gases are relatively rare elements on Earth and in most cases, their concentrations within samples is extremely low. As a result, isotope ratio analysis of these gases requires a high detection efficiency such as found with ultra-high vacuum mass spectrometers coupled to extremely sensitive detectors.

In this technical note, we present a comparison of our newly developed 1013 Ω Amplifiers and the current state-of-the-art 1012 Ω amplifier technology for the analysis of 40Ar/36Ar.

Featured technology for volcano monitoring

Delta Ray IRIS instrument

The Thermo Scientific Delta Ray Isotope Ratio Infrared Spectrometer can measure the isotope composition of CO2 emitted from the Earth’s crust, an important indicator of impending volcanic activity.

The Thermo Scientific Helix SFT Noble Gas mass spectrometer makes highly precise measurements of helium isotopes. 3He/4He ratios within volcanic gases increase shortly before an eruption.

Featured videos about volcano monitoring

Trail by Fire expedition – monitoring volcanoes in the Andes

A team volcanologists is conducting expeditions to the South American Andes to provide the first accurate and large-scale estimate of the flux of volatile species (H2O, H2, CO2, CO, SO2, H2S, HCl, HF, and more) emitted by volcanoes of the Nazca subduction zone.

Visit the Trail by Fire website to see the journey unfold.