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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Experts work on volcano warning
Soufriere Hills Volcano (AP)
The device will monitor the Soufriere Hills Volcano
Scientists in Scotland have been awarded 400,000 to create a life-saving volcano warning system.

The physicists from St Andrews University will trial the system in Montserrat in the West Indies.

Two thirds of the island, a UK overseas territory, was made uninhabitable by an eruption in 1995.

The team hopes to develop an unstaffed device capable of monitoring a volcano through the smoke, gases and clouds that usually surround its crater.

The funding has been granted by the Natural Environment Research Council.

The monitoring instrument will be built by the Millimetre Wave and High-Field ESR Group in the university's School of Physics and Astronomy.

It will build on the All-weather Volcano Topography Imaging Sensor (AVTIS) developed by the group.

In Montserrat, people are continuing to be evacuated from their homes as the volcano becomes ever more dangerous
Dr David Macfarlane

The device uses millimetre waves to measure the size, shape and temperature of a growing volcanic lava dome in all conditions.

The team aims to provide the Montserrat Volcano Observatory with round-the-clock coverage of volcanic activity.

The Soufriere Hills Volcano on Montserrat erupted in July 1995, after lying dormant for 300 years.

Further eruptions killed 19 people and buried streets and buildings around the island.

Dr David Macfarlane, lead scientist on the project, said the need to monitor the volcano was greater than ever.

"This type of volcano can change pretty quickly and the local observatory needs to know what is happening up on the mountain on a daily, if not hourly, basis," he said.

"It is the all-weather capability that sets this technology apart, allowing us to monitor the volcano from a safe distance all of the time.

Soufriere Hills Volcano before and after blowing its top (MVO/BGS/Government of Montserrat)
Soufriere Hills Volcano before and after blowing its top (Image courtesy of MVO/BGS/Government of Montserrat)

"This new funding will allow us to build an unmanned version that lives on the volcano crater rim with its own power supply, beaming the radar images and data back to the observatory."

Dr Macfarlane said the device would capture all of the significant activity leading up to an eruption.

Eventually, he hopes it will help predict where and when the volcano might explode.

Dr Macfarlane added: "In Montserrat, people are continuing to be evacuated from their homes as the volcano continues to grow and becomes ever more dangerous so there is a real need for this technology."

The team will continue to work with volcanologists from the Universities of Reading and Lancaster.

Montserrat volcano: Has it gone quiet?
26 Sep 04 |  Science/Nature
Ash rains down on Montserrat
13 Jul 03 |  Americas
Volcano teaches deadly lessons
19 Feb 99 |  Sci/Tech
Regions and territories: Montserrat
18 Sep 04 |  Country profiles

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