Investigating hydrological contributions to volcano monitoring signals: a time-lapse gravity example

Brioch J C Hemmings, Joachim H Gottsmann, Fiona F Whitaker, Armando Coco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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Geophysical techniques are widely used to monitor volcanic unrest. A number of studies have also demonstrated that hydrological processes can produce or trigger geophysical signals. Hydrologically induced gravity signals have previously been recorded by specifically designed gravity surveys as well as, inadvertently, by volcano monitoring studies. Water table corrections of microgravity surveys are commonplace. However, the fluctuations of the water table beneath survey locations are often poorly known, and such a correction fails to account for changes in water-mass storage in the unsaturated zone. Here, we combine 2-D axis-symmetrical numerical fluid-flow models with an axis-symmetric, distributed-mass, gravity calculation to model gravity changes in response to fluctuating hydrological recharge. Flow simulations are based on tropical volcanic settings where high surface permeabilities promote thick unsaturated zones. Our study highlights that mass storage (saturation) changes within the unsaturated zone beneath a survey point can generate recordable gravity changes. We show that for a tropical climate, recharge variations can generate gravity variations of over 150 μGal; although, we demonstrate that for the scenarios investigated here, the probability of recording such large signals is low. Our modelling results indicate that microgravity survey corrections based on water table elevation may result in errors of up to 100 μGal. The effect of inter-annual recharge fluctuations dominate over seasonal cycles which makes prediction and correction of the hydrological contribution more difficult. Spatial hydrogeological heterogeneity can also impact on the accuracy of relative gravity surveys, and can even result in the introduction of additional survey errors. The loading fluctuations associated with saturation variations in the unsaturated zone may also have implications for other geophysical monitoring techniques, such as geodetic monitoring of ground deformation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-273
Number of pages15
JournalGeophysical Journal International
Issue number1
Early online date20 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Hydrogeophysics
  • Volcano monitoring
  • Time variable gravity
  • Permeability and porosity


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