Muon Imaging of Volcanic Conduit Explains Link Between Eruption Frequency and Ground Deformation

László Oláh, Giuseppe Gallo, Gergő Hamar, Osamu Kamoshida, Giovanni Leone, Edward W. Llewellin, Domenico Lo Presti, Gábor Nyitrai, Takao Ohminato, Shouhei Ohno, Hiroyuki K. M. Tanaka, Dezső Varga
First published: 09 January 2023

Understanding the physical mechanism of ground deformation at a volcano supports the use of deformation data as a monitoring tool. An inverse correlation was observed between eruption frequency and ground deformation of Sakurajima volcano from November 2018 to April 2021. Over the same period, the mass density of magma in the conduit was monitored via muography. Mass density increased during inflation, when eruption frequency was low, and decreased during deflation, when eruption frequency was high. Periods of low eruption frequency are associated with the formation of a dense plug in the conduit, which we infer caused the inflation of the edifice by trapping pressurized magmatic gas. Conversely, periods of high eruption frequency are associated with the absence of the plug, which we infer allows gas to escape, leading to deflation. Muography thus reveals the in-conduit physical mechanism for the observed correlation, with implications for interpretation of deformation at other volcanoes.