(CNN)Scientists in New Zealand have invented an alert system to provide warnings ahead of volcanic eruptions -- a system which, they say, could have predicted 2019's deadly White Island blast.
New Zealand scientists develop volcano early warning system that could have predicted deadly White Island eruption
21 people were killed following an eruption on the volcanic island, also known as Whakaari, on December 9, 2019, while tourists were visiting the site. Others suffered severe injuries.
New Zealand does not have a real-time warning system for volcanic eruptions. The country's geoscience agency, GNS Science, relies on a Volcano Alert Level (VAL) system that measures the current status of a volcano, with updates issued every few weeks or months. The system relies on humans to spot activity that could signal an eruption.
The new alert system, which was developed by a team from the University of Auckland, uses machine-learning algorithms to teach itself from data fed into it.
Researchers say the system is able to signal "almost instantly" when a pattern matches that of the beginnings of a previous eruption.
They say that using data from White Island's past decade, the system was able to predict four out of five past eruptions. The system, which is now ready to be deployed, could have given 16 hours' warning ahead of last year's blast, they say.
Three weeks before the deadly eruption, the VAL activity level was raised to Level 2, indicating heightened unrest, but tourists were still able to visit.
David Dempsey from the University of Auckland said a strong burst of seismic energy came some 17 hours before the explosion.