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are the link between the deep earth, the air we breathe and the water
we drink, yet eruptions occur irregularly.
There are also real volcanic hazards on many scales. For all of these
reasons, improved understanding of volcanic processes
are learning to evaluate physical changes to volcanic domes or edifices
as an indicator of impending activity.
With improved Earth-based and space-platform technologies, they
can now measure small changes in temperature and composition of gases
escaping from the Earth into the atmosphere, as well as detect minor deformations
of the volcano and seismic activity; both indicate magma moving closer
to the surface.
In some cases, such as Montserrat over the past few years, this information
has enabled accurate forecasting of explosive events and times of increased
hazard. This information helps to protect scientific field workers and
the general public.
NSF has funded the development of some of these technologies and their
applications to active volcanoes in Hawaii, the western U.S.A. and Alaska,
as well as the Philippines, Indonesia, the Caribbean
and Central and South America.
is also funding research designed to discover new information on magma
movement, eruption dynamics and warning signals, lava and ash composition,
volcanic emissions and eruption-triggered avalanches and mudflows.
The data and improved understanding derived from this research will be
important to monitoring, eruption detection and forecasting and improving
hazard assessment in order to reduce volcanic risk to the U.S.A. and our
Since 1993, NSF-funded scientists have been able to detect volcanic
eruptions on the Juan de Fuca Ridge off the coast of Washington and Oregon.
Researchers investigated three eruptions within days or weeks of the event.
By using devices called Navy hydrophone arrays, oceanographers can monitor
in real time volcanic eruptions on the ridge. This real-time detection
of volcanic events allows scientists to study processes taking place near
and on mid-ocean ridges.
Underwater volcanic eruptions precipitate a dynamic series of reactions
between water and rock, and by creating an opening in the seafloor, they
provide a way to obtain samples from microbes recently
found living in the seabed.
in deep-sea animal environments led to the discovery that mid-ocean ridges
support abundant and diverse microbial and animal communities in the absence
and that these communities extend from the seafloor deep into the crust.
Some of the microbes sampled thrive at temperatures in excess of 212-degrees
Fahrenheit. They may have important uses in biotechnology and may lead
to an understanding of the origin of life on this and other planets.