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The Volcanic Risk Solutions team head Professor Shane Cronin.

Volcano erupts bang on time

A volcano erupted at Massey University’s Manawatū campus this week – and it went exactly as planned.

Massey University's Volcanic Risk staged the eruption in the old campus boiler room with a machine built to better understand volcanic flows and assist with hazard planning.

Professor Shane Cronin and Dr Gert Lube lead the world-first research project that is investigating the physical properties of pyroclastic flows. 

Pyroclastic flows are a hot mixture of gas and ash particles that are emitted during a volcanic eruption.

“They spread a long way and are probably the deadliest process of a volcano,” Professor Cronin says. “At the moment, when we try to map out the destruction zones and hazard zones, we often underestimate because the physical models we have to describe them are inadequate.”

The 15m tall simulator re-creates the velocities and physics present inside a pyroclastic flow. 

The first test of the simulator, last year, used polystyrene balls but this time the team used 2000-year-old volcanic material taken from Lake Taupo to closely mimic what actually happens when a volcano erupts. Sensors and cameras recorded the flows.

“We can’t measure these things in the field, because we can’t switch a volcano on and off or tell it to produce the same sized eruption in the same place, so we needed to build something that could simulate the process on a scale that is useful," he says.

"This big scale stuff gives us realistic behaviour – are these things going to stay in the channel or are they going to spill out? Not only do we measure it with cameras, there’s also sensors that measure the weight of material, the friction, how much air pressure is in there."

Professor Cronin says the data from the large-scale simulations can be used to develop warning systems around the country.


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