Volcano monitoring technology goes global

Volcano monitoring technology

Our pioneering volcano monitoring technology has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Despite the risk to human life, millions of people around the world continue to live near active volcanoes, attracted by nutrient-rich soils, geothermal energy, natural beauty and opportunities for tourism.

Dr Andrew McGonigle, a volcanologist at the University of Sheffield, has focused his research on developing the next generation of monitoring tools to help safeguard these communities.

Current approaches to monitoring are based on measuring volcanic gases, which originate from underground magmas, and are released to the atmosphere from summit craters. The gases provide crucial information on underground conditions, which is useful in forecasting eruptions and issuing evacuation alerts.

In recent years the instruments used to perform these measurements have become outdated and unreliable, making it harder to collect trustworthy data. Dr McGonigle's work has been focused on developing new instruments to measure volcanic gases based on state-of-the-art spectroscopic and imaging technologies.

The combination of science and advanced technology has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Rolex award for enterprise judges

These devices are considerably cheaper, lighter and more reliable than those used previously. This provides particular benefit for the developing world, where volcanic risks can be very high, yet monitoring budgets are limited.

The technology has been widely applied in more than 25 countries - becoming new internationally-adopted standards, used by volcano research groups and governmental volcano monitoring organisations.

Dr McGonigle said: "These technologies also sample far more frequently than possible previously, opening the way to understanding of short term changes in volcanic behaviour in considerably greater detail than achievable in the past."

In 2008, Dr McGonigle received a Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work on developing novel volcano monitoring instrumentation. The judges said that 'his combination of science and advanced technology has the potential to save thousands of lives'.