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  • (playful music)

  • - [Narrator] Volcanic corruptions like this

  • may look mesmerizing and sometimes attract flux of tourists,

  • but they're also dangerous events

  • that impact human activities,

  • displace people, and cost lives.

  • - The prediction is that we did lose some 50% of our GDP

  • as a result of the volcanic eruption.

  • - [Narrator] Take this volcano

  • on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

  • No deaths were reported, but many people had to evacuate

  • and ash blanketed entire neighborhoods.

  • Or this Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010,

  • paralyzing air traffic

  • and costing nearly $5 billion to global GDP.

  • So far, tools like seismicity monitors

  • have allowed volcanologists to forecast unrest

  • days or weeks in advance,

  • but now NASA scientists say they can help forecast eruptions

  • months or even years ahead of time using satellite imagery

  • and monitoring changes in ground temperature.

  • - We wanted to understand

  • to what extent the heat released by volcanoes can be used

  • to detect when volcanoes start to reactivate.

  • There are many impacts of volcanic eruptions

  • and our goal is to minimize those impacts

  • as much as possible.

  • - [Narrator] So here's how it works

  • and how scientists say we could benefit

  • from this new research.

  • An early sign of a volcanic eruption is heat,

  • as the magma underground rises,

  • bringing warm gases to the surface.

  • - We see that these heat emissions, they start to appear

  • for several months to years before eruption

  • and we observe these signals prior

  • to the changes that we observe with other types of signals.

  • - [Narrator] The problem is that these heat emissions

  • can be hard to monitor on the ground,

  • So Girona and his team turned to the sky.

  • NASA satellites have already been recording

  • years of information on thermal activity.

  • - In fact, none of these satellites have been designed

  • specifically to explore volcanoes,

  • but we can still use that information

  • for monitoring volcanic eruptions.

  • - [Narrator] After looking at two decades

  • of radiant heat data for several volcanoes,

  • the researchers found a pattern.

  • In the years leading up to interruption,

  • temperatures increased over much of each volcano

  • before dropping again after the eruption.

  • - [Tarsilo] We are detecting the early reactivation

  • of the volcano, which is crucial

  • to improve the monitoring efforts.

  • - [Narrator] But before this technology

  • can be fully deployed in the real world,

  • scientists will have to process much more data.

  • - Hopefully in a few years,

  • we can have a better understanding of the signals,

  • better understanding of volcanoes,

  • and we can provide accurate forecasts.

  • - [Narrator] With about 1,500 active volcanoes on Earth

  • and troves of satellite data for each one of them,

  • the NASA team is seeking help

  • from algorithms and other researchers around the world.

  • - This is another tool in our toolbox.

  • - [Narrator] That's Mike Poland.

  • He's a geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey.

  • He says that these satellite images will have to be used

  • in tandem with other traditional methods.

  • - If you're building a house,

  • you don't just show up with a screwdriver.

  • You've got a screwdriver, a hammer, a saw,

  • and we need a diverse toolkit

  • so that we can recognize all the different types of signs

  • that volcanoes might be giving us.

  • - [Narrator] Seismometers gas, sensors,

  • and radar sensors are some of the tools

  • that volcanologists will continue to use.

  • Giving communities more time to prepare

  • could make the difference between saving livelihoods or not.

  • In St. Vincent, the local observatory noticed signs

  • of unrest weeks in advance

  • and officials were ready to evacuate 20,000 residents

  • before the volcano erupted,

  • helping to avoid casualties and greater damage.

  • But with even more warning,

  • officials say they may have been able to avoid damage

  • such as water contamination, for example.

  • - When the massive eruption there took place,

  • it compromised our entire water supply.

  • All of our reservoirs were contaminated with ash.

  • We were without water for a couple of days

  • and perhaps going forward,

  • we can look at maybe putting in tents

  • where persons can store water properly.

  • We have to look at greater mitigation

  • where natural disasters are concerned.

  • - [Narrator] And in the case of that Icelandic volcano,

  • scientists say that more warning

  • would have given the aviation industry more time to adapt

  • and find alternative routes.

  • - It's important to forecast eruptions

  • because we can reduce the impact at a local scale,

  • but also at a global scale

  • if you're talking about much larger eruptions.

  • (tranquil futuristic music)

(playful music)

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How NASA Satellites Can Help Predict Volcanic Eruptions and Limit Damage | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/30
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