How robust are our volcano monitoring networks?

Written by volcanologist Geoff Kilgour: 

Here at GeoNet we like to test the performance of our network under difficult circumstances. Sometimes we subject our systems to a “stress test” and a good example of this is when we monitor the performance of the website during unusually high demand, like after a large earthquake. Thankfully, we have some great minds that keep our computer systems up and running under very difficult circumstances so we know that we will be able to keep you informed throughout natural events.

Less well known is the ability of our physical networks (seismometers and GPS equipment) to operate under severe weather events. Last week, New Zealand felt the sting of Cyclone Cook as it sauntered south along the eastern side of the North Island. Its path intersected with our beloved White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano.

On the island, we have a sophisticated network of sensors and communication equipment that streams data to our offices in near-real time, despite being around 50 km offshore. Over recent years, the network has been strengthened and there is now redundancy built in so that if a sensor or communication hub fails (e.g. is buried in an eruption) the data are still available for analysis. We thought that our world-class technicians had done an amazing job achieving this in a very acidic environment, yet we are now able to fully appreciate their efforts after Cyclone Cook swung by.

A week ago, White Island was battered by wind gusts from Cyclone Cook of up to 200 km/h and yet the network held its own. According to our senior volcano technician Richard Johnson “the network didn’t miss a beat”. Even Dino survived intact. So we are more confident than ever that our networks are robust enough to function as per normal during some of the most difficult weather conditions imaginable. All thanks to our skilful technicians.

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