Lightning is good indicator of volcanic activity

Release Date: 
Friday, February 23, 2007


Although it's been more than a year since Mount Augustine had its memorable eruption, work continues for University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers. The work of Alaska Volcano Observatory employees from UAF's Geophysical Institute will be appearing in the upcoming issue of the journal Science.

The article, which comes out today, documents electrical activity that occurred during the January 2006 eruption of Mount Augustine. While it has long been known that volcanic eruptions can produce vigorous lightening, there are few direct observations of the phenomena, states the article. Following >the initial eruptions of Jan. 11 and 13, 2006, two of which produced lightning, two electromagnetic lightning detectors were set up in Homer about 60 miles from Augustine. A couple of days later, the volcano erupted again, with the first of four eruptions producing a “spectacular lightning sequence.”

The conclusions, according to Volcano Seismologist Steve McNutt, who is a research professor of geophysics at UAF and a co-author of the article, is that in addition to the current means that seismologists employ in determining volcanic eruptions, measuring electrical activity is useful as another indicator of significant ash-producing eruptions. As a result of this research, plans are under way to install a simple lightning detector on Mount Cleveland this summer.

Along with Steve McNutt's work, Guy Tytgat and Edward Clark from the Alaska Volcano Observatory at UAF contributed technical support to a research team from New Mexico Tech, who designed and built the instruments. Six faculty and student representatives, led by Ron Thomas from the Langmuir Laboratory are listed as co-authors of the article, titled “Electrical activity during the 2006 Mt. Augustine volcanic eruptions.”

The accomplishment is significant. Competition to publish in Science, the widely circulated, highly cited journal for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is intense. The journal has an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent of all submitted articles. The article may be found at

Steve McNutt, Alaska Volcano Observatory, (907) 474-7131,