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Monitoring Volcanic Emissions Using Spectroscopy

Researchers Measure SO2 and Other Gases from Active Volcanoes

For researchers monitoring volcano activity, Ocean Optics spectrometers and accessories are ideal for measuring the emission of sulfur dioxide and other volcanic gases. Our spectrometers are flexible enough for techniques such as differential optical absorption spectroscopy (DOAS), air- and ground-based remote sensing and irradiance measurements.

Spectroscopy Volcanic Monitoring

Advantages of Modular Spectroscopy

Volcanologists are an intrepid group, traveling to remote places around the world, witnessing firsthand the awesome power of an active volcano. Making measurements from active sites provides useful data on the presence and concentration of gas emissions and their effects on forecasting models and climate changes.

That’s where our miniature, modular spectrometers come in. Ocean Optics spectrometers are compact, lightweight and have low power requirements, making it possible to deploy them from a plane or UAV or hand-carry them into volcano zones (Figure 1). Spectrometers couple to probes, sampling optics and telescope adapters for a variety of applications.


Figure 1. When you work in the most challenging environments on Earth, you have to be resourceful. This volcanologist duct-taped our spectrometer to a bicycle helmet, making himself into a sort of mobile lab.

On the Front Lines of the 2014 Icelandic Eruption

With the volcanic eruption at Holuhraun on Iceland in 2014, researchers from Chalmers University in Sweden used DOAS to monitor emissions of sulfur dioxide and other gases.  Portable, compact spectrometers like our Maya2000 Pro have become the instrument of choice for monitoring SO2 emission rates of volcanoes before and during eruptions, and are used to track plume movement over time.

Flying a “Trail by Fire” in the Andes

In 2015, Ocean Optics Flame model spectrometers and accessories helped a team of volcanologists to quantify the total amount of volatile chemical elements released by volcanoes in Chile and Peru. In this application, the researchers used both ground-based and aerial measurements of gas composition and flux in an effort to refine atmospheric modeling in the region (Figure 2).

Flame Spectrometer Volcanic Monitoring

Figure 2. The thermal stability of the Flame spectrometer is especially helpful in environments where dramatic temperature changes pose challenges.

Have Spectrometer, Will Travel

Ocean Optics offers multiple spectrometer options for UV, Visible and NIR emission measurements. A versatile, general-purpose spectrometer like Flame is a good start, while the native UV sensitivity of the Maya2000 Pro is well suited for monitoring the interaction of UV light with volcanic gases.

What we learn about spectroscopic analysis of volcanic gases and their effects also can be applied to gas emissions associated with industry, transportation and large-scale fires. Here are just some of the challenging atmospheric emission applications made possible with Ocean Optics spectrometers:

  • Aircraft emissions, Manchester Airport, United Kingdom
  • Ambrym volcano, Vanuatu Islands, South Pacific
  • Biomass (sugarcane) burning, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Buncefield oil depot explosion, United Kingdom
  • Holuhraun lava field, Iceland
  • Lascar volcano, Chile
  • Masaya volcano, Nicaragua
  • Nazca Subduction Zone, South American Andes
  • Popocatépetl volcano, central Mexico
  • Santiaguito volcano, Guatemala
  • Socompa volcanic lake, Argentinean Andes
  • Soufriѐre Hills volcano, Montserrat, Caribbean
  • Telica volcano, Nicaragua

Additional Resources

  • Visit our Volcanic Research application section
  • See video footage of the “Trail by Fire” team in action
  • Remember the guy with the spectrometer taped to his helmet? His name is Andrew McGonigle, and in 2011 he gave an engaging talk on remote sensing of volcanoes at TEDxMunich.

Download this Application Note