Scientists Reconstruct Umbrella Clouds of Ancient Volcanic Eruptions

A new USF volcanic measurement tool has the potential to help predict large future eruptions.
Chris Young

A team of scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) developed a method to reconstruct the size of volcanic eruptions that occurred thousands of years ago.

In doing so, they created a first-of-its-kind tool that helps geoscientists to understand ancient eruptions that helped shape the Earth.

Their research, which has the potential to improve predictions for future eruptions, is published in the journal Nature.


USF's numerical volcano model

The team from USF developed an advanced numerical model that allows users to simulate and accurately reconstruct ancient eruption rates. The model estimates the dimensions of the umbrella clouds that have deposited huge amounts of ashes and minerals in the past millennia.

The team, led by USF doctoral candidate Robert Constantinescu, was able to reconstruct a 2,500-year-old eruption of a volcano in Ecuador.

Current measurements of old eruptions are reliant on deposits ejected over large areas. These deposits erode over time and can give inaccurate readings, Constantinescu explained in a press statement.

Reconstructing umbrella clouds

The USF team's work shows that the dimensions of the umbrella cloud are crucial in reconstructing the trajectory of old eruptions.

"The better we can reconstruct the nature of past eruptions from deposit data, the better we can anticipate potential hazards associated with future explosive eruptions," the team wrote in the new journal article.

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The researchers applied their model to the tephra deposit of the eruption that occurred at Pululagua, a now dormant volcano located approximately 50 miles (80.5 km) north of the capital city of Quito.

"If in modern times the umbrella clouds of large eruptions are easily observed, we now have the ability to estimate the umbrella clouds of past eruptions,” Constantinescu said. "Our numerical model enables us to better characterize past volcanic eruptions and inform models for future hazard assessment."

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