A cautionary tale of topography and tilt from Kīlauea Caldera

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We conduct finite element analysis to investigate the effect of sharp topography on surface ground deformation caused by pressure changes in a magma reservoir. Tilt data expresses the horizontal gradient of vertical deformation and therefore can emphasise small variations in deformation that go unnoticed using other methods. We find that the vertical displacement profile at a surface with a cliff can be thought of as the superposition of the deformation from shallow and deeper sources. This combination can create a small peak in vertical displacement that acts as a pseudo‐source, creating a reversal of the deformation gradient and therefore anomalous tilt magnitude and a rotation of up to 180° . We apply these models to Kīlauea Caldera and find that surface geometry creates a tilt rotation of ∼10°, partially explaining anomalous tilt that has been observed. Our analysis highlights the importance of considering topography when assessing tilt measurements at active volcanoes.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4221-4229
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number8
Early online date21 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2019

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