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Monitoring Volcanoes

The Taupō Supervolcano
Managing Volcanic Hazards

New Zealand is very young and active geologically and therefore is prone to geohazards. By monitoring, modelling and detecting geohazards people can be more prepared for them. In New Zealand the GeoNet project (funded by EQC) does the monitoring.

Monitoring seismic activity

GNS Science runs the GeoNet project. EQC funds this project. GeoNet monitors New Zealand's earthquakes, large and small. It also monitors our active fault lines to understand past events and prepare for the future.

Monitoring active volcanoes

There are 12 active volcanic areas in New Zealand. The probability of an eruption affecting a large area is relatively low in any one year. But New Zealand still needs to be prepared for different types of volcanic eruptions.

GeoNet maintains permanent surveillance at active volcanoes. This monitoring detects the early signs of increased seismic and volcanic activity. This equipment is also used to analyse the impacts of eruptions and model future eruptions.

Warning signs

Before a volcanic eruption there may be the following signs as magma moves towards the surface:

  • earthquakes
  • increase in hydrothermal activity
  • changes in temperature of hydrothermal areas
  • changes in gases and heat emitted from volcanic vents
  • land deformation (swelling or sinking of the ground)

The ECLIPSE Programme

To prepare for future eruptions we need to understand what type of eruptions are possible. The ECLIPSE programme aims to understand New Zealand’s largest volcanic eruptions. ECLIPSE stands for Eruption or Catastrophe: Learning to Implement Preparedness for future Supervolcano Eruptions.

Every few decades the Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ) experiences unrest. Every few hundred years it erupts. These eruptions can be very small and short lived, or more rarely, enormous on a global scale.

Scientists face huge challenges in predicting future eruptions. These challenges include:

  • deciding if unrest will lead to an eruption
  • estimating the timing and impacts of any future eruptions (of whatever size)
  • working out the probability of another super-eruption.

The ECLIPSE Programme aims to reduce uncertainty around future volcanic unrest episodes and eruptions. It brings together many New Zealand and overseas experts. The ECLIPSE Programme has the following research aims:

  1. To create a ‘caldera health system’ to diagnose the current volcanic conditions.
  2. Identify what causes switches between dormancy, unrest and eruption.
  3. Produce tools to help organisations that will co-ordinate a response to eruption events.
  4. Create models to estimate impacts for future events.
  5. Create strategies to minimise the impacts of future eruptions based on eruption hazard and impact models.

Ready for a quiz? Try the "Monitoring Volcanoes" activity.

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Visit the GeoNet website to learn more about monitoring geohazards.

GNS Science looks after the GeoNet project which monitors earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides and tsunami. This is a seismometer to measure ground movement; how do you think it works? Image: LEARNZ.

This seismic monitoring equipment on Mount Ruapehu can detect earthquakes caused by rising magma and increasing volcanic activity levels. Image: GNS Science.

Scientists monitor the chemistry and temperature of crater lakes to detect changes in volcanic activity levels. Image: GNS Science.

Brad Scott from GNS Science completes a survey to monitor changes in the ground caused by volcanic activity. Image: GNS Science.

The Taupō Supervolcano
Managing Volcanic Hazards