Evaluating the state-of-the-art in remote volcanic eruption characterization Part II: Ulawun volcano, Papua New Guinea

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences


Retrospective eruption characterization is valuable for advancing our understanding of volcanic systems and evaluating our observational capabilities, especially with remote technologies (defined here as a space-borne system or non-local, ground-based instrumentation which include regional and remote infrasound sensors). In June 2019, the open-system Ulawun volcano, Papua New Guinea, produced a VEI 4 eruption. We combined data from satellites (including Sentinel-2, TROPOMI, MODIS, Himawari-8), the International Monitoring System infrasound network, and GLD360 globally detected lightning with information from the local authorities and social media to characterize the pre-, syn- and post-eruptive behaviour. The Rabaul Volcano Observatory recorded ~24 h of seismicity and detected SO2 emissions ~16 h before the visually-documented start of the Plinian phase on 26 June at 04:20 UTC. Infrasound and SO2 detections suggest the eruption started during the night on 24 June 2019 at 10:39 UTC ~38 h before ash detections with a gas-dominated jetting phase. Local reports and infrasound detections show that the second phase of the eruption started on 25 June 19:28 UTC with ~6 h of jetting. The first detected lightning occurred on 26 June 00:14 UTC, and ash emissions were first detected by Himawari-8 at 01:00 UTC. Post-eruptive satellite imagery indicates new flow deposits to the south and north of the edifice and ash fall to the west and southwest. In particular, regional infrasound data provided novel insight into eruption onset and syn-eruptive changes in intensity. We conclude that, while remote observations are sufficient for detection and tracking of syn-eruptive changes, key challenges in data latency, acquisition, and synthesis must be addressed to improve future near-real-time characterization of eruptions at minimally-monitored or unmonitored volcanoes.

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Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research