Sound of Volcanic Thunder is Recorded For the Very First Time

Friday, 16 March 2018 - 7:27PM
Friday, 16 March 2018 - 7:27PM
Sound of Volcanic Thunder is Recorded For the Very First Time
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Flickr/Walter Lim
Obviously, you don't need us to tell you that a volcanic eruption is powerful and very loud.

But you may not know that when a volcanic eruption launches clouds of hot ash into the sky, this can be powerful enough to create lightning as the ash particles rub against each other. This is a phenomenon called "volcanic lightning", and while there's most certainly a volcanic thunder alongside it, scientists never been able to record it so they could study it better.

Until now, at least. According to new research published in Geophysical Research Letters, the first sounds of volcanic thunder have finally been recorded, and we can hear precisely what it sounds like when a volcano is powerful enough to form its own lightning and the accompanying thunderous booms.

You can hear it for yourself below, sped up so that you're not listening all day:

The volcano responsible for these sounds is the Bogoslof volcano near Alaska, which is part of a larger chain of volcanoes and erupted more than 60 times during 2017. Since its mostly underwater, scientists had to set up microphone arrays on surrounding islands to detect when Bogoslof would erupt next and listen to all the noise it made while doing so.

When they finally picked up sounds that match how thunder should sound under those circumstances, it meant that future scientists would no longer have to rely on hearsay and the simple assumption that sounds of thunder would be present during something involving lightning.

And even better, they can now use these sounds of volcanic thunder to help airplane pilots detect volcanic lightning and ash clouds when they're flying overhead, since any surprises like that can be extremely dangerous when a pilot's up in the air. Seismologist Matt Haney, the lead author on the new study, said the following in a press statement from the American Geophysical Union: 

Opening quote
"It's something that people who've been at eruptions have certainly seen and heard before, but this is the first time we've definitively caught it and identified it in scientific data... If people had been observing the eruption in person, they would have heard this thunder. I expect that going forward, other researchers are going to be excited and motivated to look in their datasets to see if they can pick up the thunder signal."
Closing quote

Knowing more about volcanoes is always good. There's a few that are capable of turning chunks of the Earth completely inhospitable in the event of an eruption, like the volcano in Yellowstone that could potentially wipe out human life with the resulting ash clouds alone.

If that ever happened, enough ash particles would be rubbing together and creating volcanic lightning and thunder all over the United States. But there are less apocalyptic ways to witness those phenomenons in person.
Science News