Worse to come? An ash plume (inset) from a smallish eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (above) has snarled air traffic, but the volcano is proving hard to read.

(main image)Lucas Jackson/Reuters; (inset) ESA

Volcanoes sound like jet planes—and that could help calculate how hard they blow

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Researchers are always looking for better ways to predict volcanic hazards. Now, some scientists are turning to a seldom-studied phenomenon: eruption acoustics. It turns out that the noises made by volcanoes and humanmade rockets or jets have very similar sounds. Similar, because jets and eruptions work in much the same way: Material inside a chamber overpressurizes until it bursts through an opening—a nozzle in the case of rockets, or a volcanic vent. Because rockets are engineered so that fuel and air flow are precisely calculated, careful evaluation of eruption sounds should help determine the amount of material erupted, say researchers presenting at a poster session today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Using infrasound microphones, the team has already confirmed that the sounds produced just outside a small vent at Aso volcano in Japan are analogous to those that boom through a rocket’s nozzle. Next up: Find a bigger eruption, and collect enough data to make models that could predict the consequences once a volcano has blown.