And author James Farquharson has said he and colleagues are now considering whether other volcanoes around the world could likewise be susceptible. A paper published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday suggests rainfall should be taken into account when considering the reasons for eruptions, with Kilauea, on Hawaii’s Big Island having offered the ideal opportunity to test out the radical theory. Together with colleague Falk Amelung, Mr Farquharson found prior to the eruption, Hawaii had experienced several months of heavy rains.
Furthermore, a statistical analysis suggested from 1790 onwards, almost 60 percent of Kilauea’s eruptions happened in the rainy season, even though it is shorter than the dry season.
Mr Farquharson, of the University of Miami in Florida, told Express.co.uk the shallow subsurface around Kilauea was made up of porous basaltic rock which allowed rainwater to seep into the ground.
Some of the water moved laterally towards the coast, with some making its way deeper into the volcano.
A column of ash plume rises above Kilauea after the eruption in May, 2018
A sky is tinged an extraordinary colour by the ongoing eruption
He added: “As this happens, the fluid pressure inside void space in the rock (fissures and cavities) can increase.
“In rock mechanics, we know that when fluid pressure is high, rock is mechanically weaker than otherwise: new fractures can be generated, or old fractures can be reactivated.
“Our theory is that this process forged new pathways for magma to travel from a shallow reservoir up to the surface, ultimately giving rise to the eruption in 2018.”
The mechanism which he envisaged required a magma chamber – a reservoir of molten rock within the Earth’s crust underneath the volcano – ready to be “tapped” with rainwater.
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Lava covers a road with the evening sky taking on a brilliant hue from chemicals emitted by the lower east rift zone
The difference is a bit like pricking an inflated balloon with a pin (the balloon pops loudly) or pricking a deflated balloon (not much happens)
Mr Farquharson said: “The difference is a bit like pricking an inflated balloon with a pin (the balloon pops loudly) or pricking a deflated balloon (not much happens).
“It’s not a perfect analogy, but hopefully conveys the idea that there certainly need to be other factors in play.
“Because of the dramatic way in which Kilauea erupted in 2018, it is unlikely that the exact same conditions for this mechanism will occur again soon.
“This is speculation though: a great deal of further research would be required to try to identify the precise conditions required.”
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Volunteers set up a tent to distribute goods to evacuees beside a roadblock near volcanic activity on Hawaii’s Big Island
A helicopter flies above destruction amidst advancing lava in the Leilani Estates neighbourhood
To that end, Mr Farquharson and his colleagues are trying to work out where their example fits within a broader context.
He explained “Previously, researchers have suggested links between rainfall and volcanic activity at Mount St Helens (USA) , Piton de la Fournaise (a French volcanic island in the Indian ocean) and Soufriere Hills Volcano (on the island of Montserrat), for example.
“Are these cases anomalies, or are they symptomatic of a larger-scale process? If so, what are the commonalities between volcanoes that exhibit this phenomenon?
“We currently think that in order for this to be a factor, the volcanoes need to be particularly “sensitive” to conditions external to the volcano.”
The world’s most dangerous volcanoes
Fortunately for anyone fearing a supervolcano eruption, it appears they are unlikely to be affected.
He said: “We have no reason to believe that Yellowstone is prone to this kind of phenomenon.”
Mr Farquharson also suggested their research had implications for the importance of monitoring climate change, with evidence suggesting it can intensify rainfall.
He added: “It is tough to extrapolate from this single example, but the fact that more extreme precipitation is anticipated in the future in many parts of the globe suggests that understanding the potential coupling between the hydrological cycle and volcanism is an important area of research moving forward.
Kilauea is in the south-east of Hawaii’s Big Island
“The process we describe in the article is far from the only influence that rainfall might have near a volcano.
“A well-known phenomenon is the generation of lahars, for example: destructive mudflows caused by the mixture of loose volcanic debris with water, which can be devastating and fatal.
“Mass movement events such as landslides can also be driven by rainfall as well, so it is important to have a full understanding of the particular hazards associated with any given volcano.”
However, he cautioned: “We don’t want to be alarmist and say ‘every time it rains near Kilauea, there will be an eruption’: rainfall is just one of several complex factors.”
Kilauea eruption 2018
The 2018 eruption, which began on May 3, made headlines across the world, with more than 700 homes destroyed, and 2,000 people being evacuated from their homes.
The 200,000 residents of Big Island became used to terms such as vog (volcanic gas) and laze, noxious fumes which result when lava mixes with seawater.
Speaking in June, Mayor Harry Kim, who suffered a minor cardiac arrest partly as a result of working long hours in a bid to coordinate the relief operation, told Express.co.uk his holiday home was one of those destroyed.
He said: “I have lost what I consider the most beautiful place in the world but my troubles are minor compared with people who are losing everything.
“Some of your readers might think this is a common occurrence but this is unprecedented.
“We are going through something on Big Island which no living person has ever gone through before.
“One of the things about this kind of emergency is that it is not like a tsunami, or an earthquake, where you can say when it is over.
“This situation is unique – there is not a scientist alive who would dare make a prediction about when it is going to end.”
In fact, the eruption began to subside by early August, and on December 5, the United States Geological Survey declared it to have ended after three months of inactivity.
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