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Scientists Closer Than Ever to Figuring Out When Volcanoes Will Ruin Your Vacation

October 15, 2012 at 2:01 PM | by | ()

We live in a travel world where, for better or worse, Jaunted maintains categories for volcanoes and for volcano travel, to say nothing of our originally lighthearted but eventually kind of depressing big ash problems tag. Every January we wait the first eruption-driven airline cancellations of year. On particularly bad years we've even been known to slip into theological spculation about which gods exactly travelers pissed off.

Aside from angering volcano deities, there are also more mundane explanations for why travelers, every year, get stuck in airports because of volcanoes. A lot of those reasons have as much to do with badly planned and implemented safety regulations as they do with actual eruptions. But as those bad regulations get get fixed and as new technology comes online, we're getting to the point where we just have to admit that sometimes volcanoes erupt, and sometimes that delays air travel, and sometimes there's nothing anyone can do about it.

None of which means that we can't try to understand things a little bit better. A couple years ago we ran down a vulcanology vacation that tourists could take in Hawaii to learn more about how volcanoes work. And if you missed that, now you can read this nowhere-near-as-fun new study on how and why volcanoes like Eyjafjallajokull erupt the way they do:

The scientists found that pre-eruptive mixing within the magma chamber—where older cooler magma mixed with younger hotter magma—appears to be the repeating trigger in large-scale eruptions... "The very presence of mushy nodules in the pyroclastic deposits suggests that the magma chamber empties itself during the eruption, and the chamber then collapses in on itself forming the caldera,” says co-author of the study, Dr Tom Gernon.

So now you know. The eventual goal is to use the signatures that the scientists discovered—the nodules that seem to form right before a catastrophic eruption—to predict those eruptions in advance. Then scientists could warn airlines, and airlines could do their best to adjust accordingly.

Of course we're years away from that happening, and so in the meantime all you get out of this study is a little bit of knowledge. But that's OK because knowing is half the battle.

[Photo: Alaska Volcano Observatory, USG / Wiki Commons]

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