Infrasound from Rock Fall at Santiaguito Volcano, Guatemala

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Tim Ronan, Brian Terbush, Alex James Conrad Miller, Jacob Anderson and Jeffrey Bruce Johnson, Boise State University, Boise, ID, United States
Volcanoes generate infrasound from incidental rock fall and from rock fall directly associated with eruptions. This study demonstrates that arrays of infrasound microphones are capable of surveillance and quantification of rock fall events, including their size, location, velocity and frequency of occurrence. The study performed at Volcan Santiaguito (Guatemala) in January 2014 made use of a three element infrasound array with 30 m aperture deployed ~500 m from the active vent and ~300 m from the slide path where numerous rock falls descend. Rock fall events were detected on average 5 to 10 times per hour and were easily distinguishable from vent activity (e.g., explosions) by their dynamic back azimuth projection. As blocks tumbled down the southwest flanks of Santiaguito, sources were tracked across an azimuthal range of nearly 30 degrees, consistent with the dome's slope. Back azimuths, determined with a [progressive] multichannel cross correlation technique, are projected to the volcano’s steep flanks and are used to precisely locate the source of infrasound (i.e., rocks impacting on the volcano slopes) and their velocity (10-30 m/s). Typical signals last about one minute and are characterized by cigar-shaped tremor envelopes with a predominance of energy above ~5 Hz this spectral content contrasts with Santiaguito eruption infrasound, which is peaked at ~1 Hz. Synchronous video records of the responsible rock fall confirm position and velocity and illustrate that even the smallest rock falls (estimated block size of ~1 m) are capable of producing a traceable signal. This study is a testament to the capabilities of infrasound array remote sensing for detecting volcanic unrest in the form of rock fall, which is common at most active silicic domes.