volcanic lightning
View from Frutillar, southern Chile, showing volcanic lightnings and lava spewed from the Calbuco volcano on April 23, 2015. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Although beautiful, the lightning strikes that occur during volcanic eruptions have the potential to offer more than just a magnificent display- they offer clues to how a volcano is behaving. Take a look at these breathtaking volcanic lightning strikes.

volcanic lightning
Nighttime eruption of Galunggung Volcano, Java island, Indonesia. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Previously, researchers were relying on eyewitness reports to help determine eruption behavior but are now using satellite imagery and a network of shared data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN). Scientists hope to use these tools to use lightning as a monitoring tool to track the dangers of volcanic eruptions.

volcanic lightning
Lightning strikes near the Icelands Grimsvotn volcano which threatens travel chaos when it erupts. (Photo by Orvar Atli Thorgeirsson / Barcro / Getty Images)

“It sort of fills a niche that no other volcanic eruption monitoring tool can cover,” Alexa Van Eaton, a volcanologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory, told National Geographic.

Lightning is seen within a cloud of volcanic matter as it rises from the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland. A major eruption occurred on April 14, 2010 which has resulted in a plume of volcanic ash being thrown into the atmosphere over parts of Northern Europe. Air traffic has been subject to cancellation or delays, as airspace across parts of Northern Europe has been closed. (Photo by David Jon/NordicPhotos/Getty Images)

It’s expensive to hardwire every volcanic hotspot with seismometers, so scientists focus on regions with highly populated surrounding areas. As international air travel increases, the need to monitor more remote volcanos is becoming a priority. Monitoring lightning activity using the WWLLN could help.

Volcanic lightning breaks through the ash and smoke as lava spills out from Sakurajima’s opening on March 2, 2015 in Kyushu, Japan. (Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Satellite imagery isn’t perfect. The dark night sky and clouds can affect the images. Infrasound has becoming a promising monitoring tool in recent years. However, the sound waves must travel so far, the audio integrity could be compromised by the time it reaches the tool.

View from Frutillar, southern Chile, showing volcanic lightnings and lava spewed from the Calbuco volcano on April 23, 2015. (MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2016, without proper monitoring tools, a volcano in Alaska erupted for over a week before anyone noticed. Lightning monitoring is not dependent on seismometers or audio equipment, so the Alaskan eruption would have been noticed almost immediately.

A general view of spewing pyroclastic lava and thunderbolts are seen during Mount Sinabung volcano eruption, seen from Tiga Pancur village in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia on July 28, 2016. Areas of Tiga Pancur village and Payung village are covered with volcanic ash. (Photo by Tibta Pangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Van Eaton studied the lightning during a 2014 Indonesia eruption. Using WWLLN technology, she found that lightning strikes would peak at six strokes a minute during the early stages of eruption and then taper off once the plume was steadily expanding.

This volcano is one of the most active in Central America and is located over 30km away from the city of Colima in west Mexico. (Marc Szeglat / Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

A new lightning-focused study published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research has Van Eaton excited but cautious. “What we really have with this paper is some juicy observations. I hope that this will trigger a lot of interesting modeling work, and people who can take these observations and take them to the next level.” she told National Geographic.