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UEA Scientists travel to Hawaii to monitor Kilauea volcano

Scientists from the University of East Anglia (UK) are heading out to Hawaii to launch a project which will help them better understand Kilauea’s eruptive behaviour.

Their pioneering work can only be done while the volcano is in its current state of activity, and they have been awarded urgent Natural Environment Research Council funding.

Teaming up with the US Geological Survey, they will set up a series of monitoring stations to record pressure in the rock during and after eruptions.

The project may also involve flying a helicopter over the eruptions for a bird’s eye view of volcanic activity.

The team will leave tomorrow morning (Tuesday) and stay on Big Island until August 6, 2018.

Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. In April 2018, magma travelled underground to the residential region of Puna, where it erupted in 24 different fissures.

More than 2,000 people have since been evacuated from their homes and up to 700 buildings have been destroyed by lava flows. The last time there was an eruption in this area was 1960.

Lead researcher Dr Jess Johnson from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences previously spent two years on a research fellowship at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, focused on Kilauea.

She said:  “When magma pushes its way through the rock underground, it causes lots of small earthquakes. Earthquake waves can be polarised in a similar way to the way light is polarised.

“Rock polarises earthquake waves when it is under pressure and tiny cracks line up in one direction. This causes earthquake waves to travel faster in one direction - along the cracks - than the other - across the cracks.

“We can therefore use the polarisation of the earthquake waves to understand how the rock gets pressurised as the magma travels through it.

“The new eruptive activity at Kilauea means that we can investigate areas that we previously couldn’t because there were not enough earthquakes.”

UEA’s team of three researchers will set up four new stations to measure new earthquakes over a period of four months.

They will then be able to use this data to learn more about the pressure in the rock during an eruption and see what happens to the pressure when the eruption stops.

The information they gather will help monitor and forecast changes in eruptive activity, and can be applied to other volcanos around the world.

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