New Zealand: New volcano alert system ‘could have warned of White Island eruption’

Published:Monday, 20 Jul 2020 09:07

New Zealand: New volcano alert system ‘could have warned of White Island eruption’

New Zealand scientists have invented a new volcano alert system that they say could have provided warning ahead of last year’s White Island disaster.

Twenty-one people died when the country’s most active volcano, also called Whakaari, suddenly erupted last December with tourists on it.

The new system uses machine learning algorithms to analyse real-time data to predict future eruptions.

The research was publish in the journal Nature Communications last week.

One of the scientists involved in the project, Shane Cronin from the University of Auckland, told the BBC the current system had been “too slow to provide warnings for people [on] the island.”

“The current [alert system] collects data in real-time but what tends to happen is that this information gets assessed by a panel and they have an expert process… this all takes a while,” he said.

“The way we warn for volcanoes was good enough 10 years ago but it’s not actually moving with the times.”

‘We’ve really got to work on this now’

The new automated warning system was fed data collected over the past nine years from White Island. From that data it learns patterns that indicate that an eruption might be on the way.

The privately owned volcano that is always active

How are volcano bodies being recovered?

It successfully predicted four out of five past eruptions at White Island – missing only one which had different “precursors” in place.

“We picked up all but one eruption which was a different type which involved no magma, just an eruption from the shallow system and that has a different type of precursor signal,” said Prof Cronin.

“So at the moment, we can identify the main normal type of eruption and we’re just trying to work out the second model [involving the shallow surface eruptions].”