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Dating lava flows of tropical volcanoes by means of spatial modeling of vegetation recovery

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The age of past lava flows is crucial information for evaluating the hazards and risks posed by effusive volcanoes, but traditional dating methods are expensive and time-consuming. This study proposes an alternative statistical dating method based on remote sensing observations of tropical volcanoes by exploiting the relationship between lava flow age and vegetation cover. First, the factors controlling vegetation density on lava flows, as represented by the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), were investigated. These factors were then integrated in pixel-based multi-variable regression models of lava flow age to derive lava flow age maps. The method was tested at a pixel scale on three tropical African volcanoes with considerable recent effusive activity: Nyamuragira (Democratic Republic of Congo), Mt Cameroon (Cameroon) and Karthala (the Comoros). Due to different climatic and topographic conditions, the parameters of the spatial modeling are volcano-specific. Validation suggests that the obtained statistical models are robust and can thus be applied for estimating the age of unmodified undated lava flow surfaces for these volcanoes. When the models are applied to fully vegetated lava flows, the results should be interpreted with caution due to the saturation of NDVI. In order to improve the accuracy of the models, when available, spatial data on temperature and precipitation should be included to directly represent climatic variation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Early online date7 Nov 2017
Publication statusEarly online - 7 Nov 2017


  • Dating Lava Flows publisher AA

    Rights statement: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Li, L., Bakelants, L., Solana, C., Canters, F., and Kervyn, M. (2017) Dating Lava Flows of Tropical Volcanoes by Means of Spatial Modeling of Vegetation Recovery. Earth Surf. Process. Landforms, doi: 10.1002/esp.4284., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

    Accepted author manuscript (Post-print), 1.84 MB, PDF document

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