Change in seismic attenuation as a long-term precursor of gas-driven eruptions

Publication type

Journal Article

Research Area


Research Team

Magma Transport Dynamics


A large fraction of volcanic eruptions do not expel magma at the Earth’s surface. Although less known than magmatic eruptions, gas-driven eruptions expel fragments of preexisting rocks, volcanic gases, and steam, causing substantial casualties. The destructive potential of these eruptions lies in the difficulty in identifying clear warning signals. Some gas-driven eruptions have been preceded by some physicochemical changes, but these were extremely short-term (from minutes to hours), and no long-term trends have been clearly evidenced so far. Here, we show that unheralded gas-driven eruptions can be forecast in the long term using seismic signals recorded at nearby active craters. In particular, we have found that the most recent gas-driven eruptions at Kawah Ijen (Indonesia) and Ruapehu and Tongariro (New Zealand) volcanoes were all preceded by a systematic relative increase in lower-frequency (4.5–8 Hz) seismic amplitude compared to higher frequencies (8–16 Hz) over time scales of months to years. We show that this precursory activity reflects significant increases in seismic attenuation affecting preferentially high-frequency travelling waves; this probably results from the accumulation of volatiles in the shallow crust, which increases pore pressure in small-scale rock heterogeneities and eventually leads to gas-driven eruptions. Our results highlight the feasibility of better constraining the onset and the end of an unrest episode, which is of paramount importance for agencies in charge of volcano monitoring.

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