Satellite and ground-based analysis of the effects on vegetation of continuous SO2 degassing at Turrialba volcano (Costa Rica) and its application to hazard management

Monday, 15 December 2014
Riccardo Tortini1, Saskia M van Manen2, Bethan Burson3 and Simon A Carn1, (1)Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, United States, (2)Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7, United Kingdom, (3)Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Turrialba is an active stratovolcano located 35 km northeast of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city and socioeconomic hub. After over 100 years of quiescence Turrialba resumed activity in 1996 progressively increasing its degassing and seismic activity, showing continuous gas emissions since 2007. Intermittent phreatic explosions with ash emissions that have reached the capital have occurred since 2010. This activity has resulted in the temporary evacuation of two villages, closure of the National Park that comprises the summit region of the volcano and devastation of the local ecosystem.

We combined a variety of satellite-based time series with ground-based measurements of ambient gas concentrations, element deposition and surveys of species richness to enable a comprehensive assessment of SO2 emissions and changes in vegetation. Satellite-based time-series were obtained from Landsat ETM+, Terra ASTER, Terra/Aqua MODIS and Aura OMI, with some of the data dating back to 2000. From 2007-2010 we observed emissions of SO2 and loss of vegetation healthiness (i.e. decrease of EVI2) downwind of the vents. From 2010 onwards these stabilized, but we observe an apparent decrease in agriculture. Other multi-temporal products, such as the ALOS PALSAR FNF data, confirm our observations. The exposure to the volcanic plume resulted in high soil acidity and significant uptake of certain heavy metals by vegetation; in contrast other elements are leached from the soil as a result of the acid deposition. These factors are likely to be responsible for decreased species richness and physiological damage observed at Turrialba.

Our study shows ecological impacts, in terms of soil characteristics, vegetation composition and diversity and physiological damage of vegetation, which all correlate to fumigation by Turrialba’s plume. Analyzing and relating the remote observations to conditions and impacts on the ground provides a better understanding of volcanic degassing, its impacts on vegetation and how satellite-based monitoring can be used to inform hazard management strategies related to land use and agricultural productivity in near-real time.