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Volcanic eruptions predictable with new technique

Scientists are now able to see inside volcanoes and forecast eruptions, using a technique called seismic tomography, according to a recent study conducted on Italy's Mount Etna. Seismic tomography employs methods similar to those used in medical CAT scans to generate images of the earth's internal structure, including the inner workings of volcanoes, D. Patane, one of the researchers, said in an e-mail. Patane's team, from the Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia in Rome, used four-dimensional seismic tomography, which photographs rocks over a period of time, to detect internal changes in Mount Etna, such as new flows of magma rich in explosive gases. Armed with this information, the scientists were able to forecast an eruption and say how it would deform the ground. Researchers said they were successful in watching magma movements on Mount Etna, Europe's biggest volcano, because it is equipped with a high-quality monitoring system and seismic network. Such networks aren't available on most volcanoes. Nonetheless, „we believe that the extensive application of 4D tomography could be widely used in volcanic monitoring and in the prediction of violent explosive eruptions generated by gas-rich magma,” the researchers said in the report, published in the Aug. 10 issue of the journal Science. The ability to forecast eruptions could help lessen damage, especially in the case of volcanoes like Mount Etna that are located near densely populated areas. Such volcanoes pose a „serious risk during their eruptive activity as confirmed by the recent intense explosive activity which characterized the last 2001 and 2002-2003 flank eruptions,” Patane said. The 2002-2003 eruption of Mount Etna spewed red-hot magma 200 meters into the air and showered the nearby city of Catania with volcanic ash, the BBC reported. Mount Etna, located on the eastern coast of Sicily, has erupted 200 times, killing about 80 people. (Bloomberg)