With one detector, you may get a two-dimensional picture of a volcano’s innards, “similar to a medical X-ray,” mentioned David Mahon, a muography researcher on the University of Glasgow who was not concerned with the examine. “By using multiple detectors positioned around the object, it’s possible to build up a crude 3-D image.”
After utilizing muography to see inside an innocuous Japanese mountain in 1995, the approach was ultimately deployed at energetic volcanoes. One of the primary profitable campaigns was Mount Asama in Japan, the place researchers discovered a buried lava mound sitting atop a Swiss cheese-like magmatic passageway. It has since been used to see into, amongst others, Italy’s Etna and Stromboli volcanoes, Japan’s hyperactive Sakurajima volcano and the La Soufrière de Guadeloupe volcano within the Caribbean.
Muons have discovered weaknesses that trace on the web site of future flank collapses, landslides and lava escape routes. They have additionally discovered contemporary pockets of magma that could be primed to erupt and that had been missed by different devices.
Volcanic muography isn’t flawless. The detectors can solely see the components of the volcano that the muons are penetrating. “You can only watch from below towards the sky,” mentioned Marina Rosas-Carbajal, a volcano geophysicist on the Paris Institute of Earth Physics who was not concerned with the examine. Muons are unable to penetrate deeper components of the volcano, leaving these areas largely off-limits to muographers.
Placing detectors round dozens extra volcanoes, and subjecting volcanic rocks to muons in laboratories, will enhance the approach’s precision because it vies for mainstream use. But even when it does turn out to be commonplace, it gained’t remedy all our volcanic woes.
“Volcanoes are super complex,” mentioned Dr. Rosas-Carbajal. Their labyrinthine innards and complicated chemistries imply their magma will often evade even the savviest of detectors. Unpredictable eruptions will stay a truth of life, irrespective of how effectively scientists wield the magic of muons.
And muography is unlikely to make out of date the opposite numerous devices used to check volcanoes, like seismic waves and satellite tv for pc statement. “It may not replace existing techniques,” mentioned Vitaly Kudryavtsev, a particle physicist on the University of Sheffield who was not concerned with the examine. “But it may complement them.”