Monitoring the Development of Volcanic Eruptions through Volcanic Lightning - Using a Lightning Mapping Array, Seismic and Infrasound Array, and Visual Plume Analysis

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The period of 28 May – 7 June 2015 at Sakurajima Volcano, Japan witnessed a multitude of Vulcanian eruptive events, which resulted in plumes reaching 500-3000m above the vent. These plumes varied from white, gas-rich plumes to dark grey and black ash-rich plumes, and were recorded on lowlight and infrared cameras. A nine-station lightning mapping array (LMA) was deployed to locate sources of VHF (67-73 MHz) radiation produced by lightning flashes and other types of electrical activity such as ‘continuous RF (radio frequency)’. Two Nanometrics Trillium broadband seismometers and six BSU infrasound sensors were deployed. Over this ten day period we recorded 1556 events that consisted of both seismic and infrasound signals, indicating explosive activity. There are an additional 1222 events that were recorded as only seismic or infrasound signals, which may be a result of precursory seismic signals or noise contamination.

Plume discharge types included both distinct lightning flashes and ‘continuous RF’. The LMA ran continuously for the duration of the experiment. On 30 May 2015 at least seven lightning flashes were also detected by the Vaisala Global Lightning Detection 360 network, which detects VLF (3-30 kHz) radiation. However the University of Washington’s World Wide Lightning Location Network, which also detects VLF radiation, detected no volcanic lightning flashes in this time period. This indicates that the electrical activity in Sakurajima’s plume occurs near the lower limits of the VLF detection threshold.

We investigate relationships between the plume dynamics, the geophysical signal and the corresponding electrical activity through: plume velocity and height; event waveform cross-correlation; volcano acoustic-seismic ratios; overall geophysical energy; RSAM records; and VHF sources detected by the LMA. By investigating these relationships we hope to determine the seismic/infrasound energy threshold required to generate measurable electrical activity. Seismic and infrasound are two of the most common volcanic monitoring methods. By developing the relationships between plume electrification and these geophysical methods we hope to expand the use of lightning for active volcano monitoring.

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Presented at the AGU Fall Meeting on December 11, 2017 in New Orleans, LA