Predicting volcanic eruptions can become easier, cheaper, and more accurate with the development of early-warning detection technology.
Volcanic eruptions are devastating. They can cause the loss of life, limb, and property. They can cause widespread damage, and there's a lot of still-active volcanoes peppered across the planet. As of now, there are around 1,500 active volcanoes worldwide.
Hundreds of millions of people live within the radius of destruction of a volcano that can erupt any time. Meanwhile, 60 to 80 significant eruptions take place every year. With these numbers, volcanic eruptions can be be a big problem.
Volcanologist Andrew McGonigle, a Rolex Laureate, has sought to make ways of predicting volcanic eruptions better. In 2008, McGonigle won a Rolex Award for developing new technology that has improved the accuracy of volcanic eruption prediction. His latest project is the development of equipment that can further improve volcanic eruption prediction capabilities.
Volcanologists have used a 1970s correlation spectrometer that monitors sulfur dioxide levels in volcanoes. These old spectrometers are not only heavy, they're also expensive. They weigh 20 kilos and cost $60,000.
McGonigle thus enabled the creation of a much lighter and much less expensive spectrogram. This new version only weighs all of a kilo and costs $4,000. By writing new computer software and establishing new hardware protocols, McGonigle was able to facilitate the creation of a lighter and less expensive spectrometer.
These new spectrometers can measure the background light that volcanic gases absorb. By doing this, the spectrometers can produce images of volcanic plumes. Along with the seismic and other exams, this technology can contribute to early prediction systems.
This isn't the first piece of equipment that McGonigle has created. He won his Rolex Award for creating a device that makes predicting volcanic eruptions possible as early as months in advance. McGonigle devised a small-scale helicopter outfitted with an ultraviolet camera that can measure the carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide that volcanoes emit. This helicopter reduced the costs of measuring these volcanic gases, and eliminated the dangers that volcanologists face when measuring volcanic gas levels.
The spectrometers and the mini-helicopters have been distributed across the world to help volcanologists with predicting volcanic eruptions. These technologies have helped communities adequately prepare for a volcanic eruption. People living within a volcanic radius of destruction can evacuate long before the situation becomes too dangerous.
McGonigle aims to distribute the technologies he created to developing countries that don't have adequate prediction capabilities. After all, many of these developing countries, have a number of active volcanoes. With accurate prediction equipment, governments can give adequate warning to people in affected areas.
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