What instruments, tools, and methods do you use to study volcanoes?

The type of equipment and techniques we use to study volcanoes depends on the particular volcano topic we are investigating and on the experiment we are conducting. When specialized instruments are not available for a special study or for monitoring a specific type of activity, we design and build our own; for example the acoustic flow monitor (AFM) for detecting lahars and for studying flowing mixtures of water and rock debris under controlled conditions.

For studying and monitoring restless and erupting volcanoes, several onsite and remote methods are used to gather data that also help us answer four critical questions during a volcano emergency.

For reconstructing a volcano's eruptive history so that we can identify the type of activity most likely to occur in the future as well as the areas around a volcano that are likely to be effected by future eruptions, we use many geologic mapping and dating strategies. These include:
  1. Identifying rock outcrops, formations, and features on the ground and identifying their exact location on detailed aerial photographs and topographic maps or in computerized geographic information systems (GIS).
  2. Collecting dozens to hundreds of volcanic rock and ash samples from sites located on or near the volcano and also tens of kilometers downwind or downstream, and then using laboratory techniques for determining their chemistry and mineral compositions.