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Monitoring Volcanoes and Magma Movements

University of Iceland via edX


The course gives an introduction to volcano monitoring techniques, magma movements and volcano unrest. It also presents some aspects of why volcanoes are dangerous and volcanic hazards. Volcano monitoring relies on diverse approaches to infer the state of a volcano so many different instruments and techniques are used to monitor volcanoes. Predicting eruptions or forecasting future activity of a volcano is based on monitoring data. If activity level rises above normal the volcano is in a state of unrest. Magma often intrudes in the roots of volcanoes prior to eruptions. This process generates earthquakes as stress level is increased and ground deformation as the volcano expands in response to additional mass in its subsurface. Seismology and geodetic measurements on the surface of the volcano are thus key to monitoring subsurface conditions.

As magma, molten rock inside volcanoes, approaches the surface it releases volcanic gas that finds its way to the surface, and geothermal activity can change. In addition to ground-based techniques, satellite observations are extensively used. The main monitoring techniques for volcanoes are explained in the course, with the aim that students understand both the concept of volcanic unrest and how it can be monitored, how eruptions can be monitored, and signs of volcanic eruptions as seen on instruments.

Understanding the possibilities and limitations of present-day volcano monitoring for detecting magma movements is an important step in understanding volcanoes, evaluating hazards and for giving warnings of impending eruptions. The course thus provides information on how scientists predict future activity of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions. Monitoring data are interpreted in terms of models of subsurface processes such as magma accumulation during volcano unrest, and magma withdrawal during eruptions. The course gives an introduction to such models, used to infer the volume and location of magma movements in volcano roots, in particular those based on mapping ground deformation.

The course presents examples of monitoring data and interpretations from recent eruptions and periods of volcanic unrest in Iceland and around the world, including the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull that closed Europe’s airspace.


Module 1 : Introduction, volcanic plumbing systems and volcano seismology. We explore models of volcano interiors and how magma (molten rocks) finds its way to the surface, often through a complicated volcanic plumbing system. We learn about how seismology can track earthquakes due to magma movements and increased stress in volcano roots.

Module 2 : Volcano geodesy. We get an introduction to techniques that can measure ground deformation on volcanoes with millimeter-level accuracy. This includes both geodetic measurements using Global Navigation and Satellite Systems (GNSS) and interferometric analysis of synthetic aperture radar satellite images (InSAR), as well as other techniques.

Module 3 : Magma, volcanic gas and eruptions. We learn about the properties of magma and gain an understanding of volcanic gas, how it can be measured and what it can tell us. We learn how one can monitor eruptions and measure how much magma is erupted.

Module 4 : Volcano deformation models. We are introduced to models used to interpret ground deformation data, in terms of sources of increased pressure, or sources of increased volume of magma, at depth in volcanoes.

Module 5 : Case studies of volcano unrest and eruptions. We look at monitoring data from selected eruptions, including the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption in Iceland that closed Europe’s airspace. We gain an understanding of what these data could tell us about magma movements in volcano roots.

Module 6 : More case studies and summary. We are exposed to more case studies of volcano unrest and eruptions. We sum up the content of the course by exploring the critical elements of a volcano monitoring network and how joint interpretation of diverse data sets is essential.

Taught by

Freysteinn Sigmundsson, Evgenia Ilyinskaya, Michael Poland, Halldór Geirsson, Páll Einarsson and Kristín Jónsdóttir


4.9 rating, based on 22 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at edX based on 13 ratings

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  • Anonymous
    Course very well done, video quality and content very good. You can learn a lot on volcanoes science.
  • Profile image for Marcello Milanezi
    Marcello Milanezi
    The course is excellent and met perfectly my expectations. Being a lawyer I have absolutely no technical background in the course's subject, or even been taught anything about volcanoes other than the very basics from high-school. Add to that the fa…
  • Anonymous
    I would highly recommend this course. It is very detailed. I thought I knew volcanoes but the material in this course was the latest and greatest information available. It is also taught by extremely knowledgeable instructors. Lots of diagrams, lots of videos and case historys. The reading and references also help to reinforce instructional material presented. The course is well designed. I would not call it an entry level course. You need to have a fairly good geology background and a some understanding of geophysics to make your life easy for this course. This a great class.
  • Alicia Felpeto
    Very interesting course that covers the main aspects on volcano monitoring and magma movement, with a lot of examples, both recent and not so recent, of different unrest processes and eruptions. One of the best characteristics of this mooc is its scalability, as each topic starts with rather basic concepts and evolves to much more complicated techniques, models or interpretations. This makes the course afordable for almost everyone interested on volcanoes, from people with a good background on Volcanology to someone with no background on it.

    I strongly recommend this course to anyone interested on volcanoes
  • Anonymous
    Taking this course is really one of the best thing ever happened to me during this period of the pandemic, it broadened my knowledge more magma and volcanoes. I recommend this to everyone whatever line of work you are into, try to have a glimpse of this course.. it could also help understand your environment better.
  • Anonymous
    This is a short course in volcanology. As such it covers a lot of ground and is information dense. I found that stopping the video to study the charts and images was essential. The scrolling transcript of the lecture that occupies the right hand side was also of great help. I would highly recommend the course to anyone, who wishes to learn more about volcanoes in general. A person could spend as little as 20 hours covering just the material presented in the course text and videos or hundreds of hours studying all the material that the course links to.
  • Anonymous
    It is a very useful course for People who want to start learning about Volcanoes. Therefore no matter if you don't have experience about volcanoes. Just get in into the course.
  • Anonymous
    The material covered was extremely interesting and the videos were very well made. Although it is a very short course it was not dumbed down, just abridged. I feel like I learned a lot of new things in a very short and enjoyable time. Thanks!
  • Anonymous
    I learned a lot more about volcanoes. The textbook and video's were very informative and I enjoyed the course.
    However, I regret that quizzes, off which you always learn a lot more, were only available for paying students.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting course, covering some of the fundamental topics within volcanology, using great case studies and examples - suitable for a range of abilities, from beginner to advanced as additional resources/ videos provided should you want to pursue background reading on certain topics depending on previous understanding! Recommend to anyone with a passion for volcanology!
  • Anonymous
    Amazing course that covers main topics to understand "The Volcano System" or how to monitor a Volcano and to try to predict eruptions and magma movement.
    There is a lot of specific examples/cases study from Iceland, USA, Italia, Japan ....

    I strongly recommend this course to anyone interested on volcanoes
  • Profile image for Nansi Tobolidi
    Nansi Tobolidi
    It was a full package of basic knowledge of monitoring volcanoes and magma movements and it is giving all the aspects about the future of this science.

    It is very well organized and the quizzes at the end of every module were very helpful for understanding the core of every lesson in detail.
  • Anonymous
    This course was very informative. I already had some background about volcano monitoring but this course bought my knowledge to a higher level of details. I have not read the textbook, yet. I certainly will do very likely this summer.
    I found this course as a good starting point for more.
  • Anonymous
    I enjoyed this course a lot.
    The eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes explained by Sigmundsson Freysteinn were exciting for a volcanophile like me.
    I understood the importance of improving their oversight because the whole planet is frenzied when an Icelandic volcano gets angry.
  • Anonymous
    Very good course, taught with a comprehensible approach for all the public. I have a background in volcanic processes and geophysics, and even so learnt a lot during the course. The suggested bibliography also allows a further study. Cheers!
  • Fabián Pachano
    Extremely interesting! Excellent content, examples and case studies. No prior knowledge required. As a geology enthusiast, I greatly enjoyed acquiring knowledge of volcanology and the monitoring techniques that are performed today.
  • As a geology student and budding volcanologist I highly recommend this course.
    Many thanks to all scientists who were involved!
    Thanks go out to Iceland and the David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory!
  • Anonymous
    Great course! Interesting and lot of materials :) Freysteinn is really helpful and answers all our questions. I liked the videos and the guest lectures.
  • Anonymous
    This course has been very helpful to understand better the volcanic enviroment and its behaviour. I have learned and enjoyed a lot. Highly recommended!
  • Anonymous
    Very nice and instructive course. I learnt a lot about volcanoes and magmatic systems. Recommend to anyone willing to learn about the topic!

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