Volcano monitoring by microgravity and energy budget analysis

G. C. Brown, H. Rymer, David Stevenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microgravity monitoring of active volcanoes can provide evidence of sub-surface mass and/or density changes that precede eruptions. If, in addition, precursory increases in thermal emissions are observed, an integrated mechanistic model for volcanic activity may be developed with the potential for forecasting eruptions. Crater-lake volcanoes provide an interesting target for such studies since thermal output can be monitored simply through lake water calotimetry. Here we summarize 10 years of gravity and thermal data from Poás volcano, Costa Rica. Mass/energy balance calculations demonstrate that, in the steady-state, the large thermal inertia of the crater lake acts as a buffer to short-term changes in the energy input from the cooling magma feeder pipe. Since February 1986, it is postulated that there has been gradual emplacement of a shallow magma intrusion associated with vesiculation and gas loss to the surface. This follows from unambiguous, gravity increases, constrained by elevation control, that are coincident in time with a period of long-term increased energy input to the crater lake. Progressive reduction of the lake volume by evaporation/seepage culminated in an (April 1989) ash eruption providing a good documented record of combined gravity and thermodynamic precursors to volcanic activity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-593
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Geological Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1991


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