The impact of persistent volcanic degassing on vegetation: A case study at Turrialba volcano, Costa Rica

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© 2017 Elsevier B.V. Although the impacts of large volcanic eruptions on the global environment have been frequently studied, the impacts of lower tropospheric emissions from persistently degassing volcanoes remain poorly understood. Gas emissions from persistent degassing exceed those from sporadic eruptive activity, and can have significant long-term (years to decades) effects on local and regional scales, both on humans and the environment. Here, we exploit a variety of high temporal and high spatial resolution satellite-based time series and complementary ground-based measurements of element deposition and surveys of species richness, to enable a comprehensive spatio-temporal assessment of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions and their associated impacts on vegetation at Turrialba volcano (Costa Rica) from 2000 to 2013. We observe increased emissions of SO2 coincident with a decline in vegetation health downwind of the vents, in accordance with the prevalent wind direction at Turrialba. We also find that satellite-derived vegetation indices at various spatial resolutions are able to accurately define the vegetation kill zone, the extent of which is independently confirmed by ground-based sampling, and monitor its expansion over time. In addition, ecological impacts in terms of vegetation composition and diversity and physiological damage to vegetation, all spatially correspond to fumigation by Turrialba's plume. This study shows that analyzing and relating satellite observations to conditions and impacts on the ground can provide an increased understanding of volcanic degassing, its impacts in terms of the long-term vegetation response and the potential of satellite-based monitoring to inform hazard management strategies related to land use.

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International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation