Nighttime eruption of Galunggung Volcano, Java island, Indonesia. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Icelands Grimsvotn Volcano threatens travel chaos when it erupts. (Photo by Orvar Atli Thorgeirsson / Barcro / Getty Images)
Lightning is seen within a cloud of volcanic matter as it rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland. A major eruption occurred on April 14, 2010 which has resulted in a plume of volcanic ash being thrown into the atmosphere over parts of Northern Europe. Air traffic has been subject to cancellation or delays, as airspace across parts of Northern Europe has been closed. (Photo by David Jon/NordicPhotos/Getty Images)
KYUSHU, JAPAN - MARCH 2 2015: Volcanic lightning breaks through the ash and smoke as lava spills out from Sakurajima's opening on March 2, 2015 in Kyushu, Japan.
A VOLCANO explodes into life as it sprays burning hot ash high into the air - followed by a deafening shockwave. Shot by filmmaker Marc Szeglat, 47, this incredible footage shows the highly active Sakurajima volcano on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The German videographer was able to capture the rare phenomenon of volcanic lightning, as well as an explosive shockwave which rippled through the sky. Sakurajima, translated as Cherry Island, has been erupting on a regular basis since 1955 and is a constant danger to the nearby city of Kagoshima, which has a population of over 600,000.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
View from Frutillar, southern Chile, showing volcanic lightnings and lava spewed from the Calbuco volcano on April 23, 2015. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - JULY 28: A general view of spewing pyroclastic lava and thunderbolts are seen during Mount Sinabung volcano eruption, seen from Tiga Pancur village in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia on July 28, 2016. Areas of Tiga Pancur village and Payung village are covered with volcanic ash. (Photo by Tibta Pangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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COLIMA, MEXICO - OCTOBER TO NOVEMBER 2015:An extraordinary shot of the magnificent volcano while it erupts spouting huge plumes of ash into the air on October to November, 2015 in Colima in Mexico.
A VOLCANO shoots huge plumes of dark ash cloud into the air - creating dramatic bolts of lightning. This awe-inspiring footage was filmed by German filmmaker Marc Szeglat, 48, and shows the tempestuous Colima volcano in Mexico angrily erupting. The volcano is one of the most active in Central America and is located over 30km away from the city of Colima in the west of the country.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media
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W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Although beautiful, the lightning strikes that occur during volcanic eruptions have the potential to offer more than just a magnificent display- they offer clues to how a volcano is behaving. Take a look at these breathtaking volcanic lightning strikes.
Previously, researchers were relying on eyewitness reports to help determine eruption behavior but are now using satellite imagery and a network of shared data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN). Scientists hope to use these tools to use lightning as a monitoring tool to track the dangers of volcanic eruptions.
“It sort of fills a niche that no other volcanic eruption monitoring tool can cover,” Alexa Van Eaton, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, told National Geographic.
It’s expensive to hardwire every volcanic hotspot with seismometers, so scientists focus on regions with highly populated surrounding areas. As international air travel increases, the need to monitor more remote volcanos is becoming a priority. Monitoring lightning activity using the WWLLN could help.
Satellite imagery isn’t perfect. The dark night sky and clouds can affect the images. Infrasound has becoming a promising monitoring tool in recent years. However, the sound waves must travel so far, the audio integrity could be compromised by the time it reaches the tool.
In 2016, without proper monitoring tools, a volcano in Alaska erupted for over a week before anyone noticed. Lightning monitoring is not dependent on seismometers or audio equipment, so the Alaskan eruption would have been noticed almost immediately.
Van Eaton studied the lightning during a 2014 Indonesia eruption. Using WWLLN technology, she found that lightning strikes would peak at six strokes a minute during the early stages of eruption and then taper off once the plume was steadily expanding.
A new lightning-focused study published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research has Van Eaton excited but cautious. “What we really have with this paper is some juicy observations. I hope that this will trigger a lot of interesting modeling work, and people who can take these observations and take them to the next level.” she told National Geographic.