Deadly volcanic phenomenon tracked for first time

Posted by uatemp13 at Jan 22, 2014 02:35 PM |
Scientists track movements of pyroclastic flows
Deadly volcanic phenomenon tracked for first time

Pyroclastic flows are one of the deadliest side effects of volcanic eruptions (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

How do you monitor the movement of a pyroclastic flow—a burning wall of hot ash and gas, travelling down the sides of a volcano at up to 450 miles per hour?

Scientists of the University of Leicester have found a way—and their technique has shown that, rather than flowing out radially from an erupting volcano, pyroclastic flows change direction over time.

NERC's Planet Earth website reports that scientists from our Department of Geology studied the layers of deposits left 45,000 years ago by flows on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, in the Mediterranean. They compared them with samples of deposits taken from the magma chamber and then tracked the characteristic circular deposits left by the currents of pyroclastic flows, finding that the flows had actually changed direction and moved around the landscape after the initial eruption, dodging natural obstacles.

The outcome of the research was published in the journal Geology.

Pyroclastic flows have always been far too dangerous to observe up close: they buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79, swept away the town of St. Pierre in Martinique in 1902, leaving just three survivors, and flattened the entire area around Mt. Saint Helens in 1980.

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