Rock & Gem

Electric Volcanoes?


Bolts of lightning have long been observed flashing in ash clouds above erupting volcanoes, but now we know there are unseen surges and bursts of electrical activity in the early stages of some eruptions.

A team of volcanolog­ists including Cassandra Smith (Alaska Volcano Observator­y, Anchorage and the University of South Florida) recently wrote of their findings in examining 97 eruptions of Sakurajima, one of the most active volcanoes in Japan.

Describing their findings in Geophysica­l Research Letters, Smith and her colleagues refer to these unseen electrical surges as “vent discharges” and note they “are tiny and invisible but create a peculiar signal known as continual radio frequency.”

Scientists hope to unravel the mystery of these electrical bursts as one more tool to help monitor and predict eruptions before they occur.

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