Controls on the Frequency Content of Near-Source Infrasound at Open-Vent Volcanoes: A Case Study from Volcán Villarrica, Chile

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Infrasound signals from open-vent volcanoes can contain information related to that volcano’s eruption dynamics and future activity. Studying a specific volcano’s acoustic signature during periods of relative quiescence is thus important for understanding potential warning signs of impending eruptions. Volcán Villarrica, located in southern Chile, has a long-lived active lava lake that produces continuous infrasound with spectral peaks centered around 1 Hz that vary by + / −  ~ 0.2 Hz over day-to-week-long time scales. The infrasound frequency content has been shown to illuminate key volcanic properties such as eruption style and crater shape. Leading up to Villarrica’s most recent paroxysm in 2015, for instance, infrasound spectral changes coincided with a rise in Villarrica’s lava lake level. Quantifying and understanding the regular fluctuation in recorded infrasonic frequencies from Villarrica and other open-vent volcanoes is thus imperative during periods of relative calm. Our experiment entailed a week-long period of crater rim infrasound observations associated with stable, open-vent activity and revealed two independent source processes: spatter bursting events (relatively broadband infrasound) and lava lake-induced tremor (sustained signals peaked at 1 Hz). A comparison of these acoustic signals with results from 3-D finite-difference time-domain wave propagation models shows that while sound speed variability can influence Villarrica’s spectrum, it cannot explain the full extent of the observed frequency excursions. We conclude that source spectrum variability is primarily responsible for the frequency excursions. Our work highlights the utility of data collected from a dense distribution of twenty infrasound sensors operating at the summit coupled with numerical modeling of sound radiation.