Can volcanic eruptions be predicted?
December 10, 2019 10:05PM
There are precipitating factors that can be used to predict a volcanic eruption, including the volcano’s history, how long since its last eruption, and the usual amount of time between eruptions. Other signs include an increased number of earthquakes and a certain level of gas emissions which can be measured via satellite. However, similar to meteorology, there is an inherent level of uncertainty, and the time and severity of an eruption is very difficult to predict.
In the case of the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption, the preemptive warnings included earthquakes and steam explosions in the months leading up to the blast, prompting the U.S. Forest Service to evacuate people from near the volcano. Although 57 people died, roughly 20,000 were more than likely saved by the evacuations, according to volcanologist William Rose.
Alternatively, when the 2019 White Island eruption happened in New Zealand, there were few warning signs. Although a rise in volcanic tremors caused the alert level to be raised from 1 to 2 in the weeks before the eruption, this isn’t an unusual occurrence and usually doesn’t mean a devastating eruption is imminent. "We don't normally see these eruptions coming, no matter how much we would like to," stated Earth scientist Shane Cronin of the blast.