Predicting the next volcanic eruption

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Published: 28Sep2022

Volcanic eruptions can be tricky to predict. Magma stored below volcanoes contains dissolved gases, including carbon dioxide, which escape to the surface and can be sampled at different times (before, after or during) an eruption to provide clues about the next one.  

But climbing into a pulsing, breathing volcano to monitor the carbon dioxide content can be dangerous. The McGill Volcanology Research Group has teamed up with researchers in Costa Rica to become one of the first in the world to successfully use drones to collect volcanic carbon dioxide.   

The team flew two drones into the crater of Poás, an active volcano in Costa Rica. They measured the carbon dioxide content of gas samples they collected to monitor the level of volcanic activity. A few brave researchers also climbed into the crater to take samples from the ground to validate the drone results.   The unique patterns in the carbon isotopes revealed a change in the chemistry of carbon dioxide gases in the volcano just before a large eruption of this volcano in 2017.  

“Flying drones into volcanoes can be helpful to in monitoring volcanoes and forecasting eruptions, because it gives us easy access to the volcanic gases,” said first author Fiona D’Arcy, PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Safety is of the utmost importance here: safety of the communities living around the volcano, safety of the researchers, and respect for safe flying practices in natural and tourist areas.”  

New Insights into carbon isotopic systematics of Poás volcano, Costa Rica by Fiona D’Arcy, John Stix et al was published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 


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Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s top ranked medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It is a world-renowned institution of higher learning with research activities spanning three campuses, 11 faculties, 13 professional schools, 300 programs of study and over 39,000 students, including more than 10,400 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,000 international students making up 30% of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 20% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.

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