Volcanology [vol-kuh-nol-uh-jee]

1. The study of volcanoes and volcanic phenomena.


Its amazing when I tell people I study volcanolgy or want to be a volcanolgist I am usually met with one of two responses; one I get a blank expression as if I had started speaking a foreign language, or funny hand signs and references to the Vulcans from Star Trek. Now although I study science I am far from a sci-fy nerd and the latter usually gets a very unamused response from me.

Volcanology is a very broad subject which encompasses all the basic sciences (chemistry, physics and even a little biology).  Geophysics looks at the tectonic settings create volcanic setting, geodesy the takes a mathematical look at gravitation field which can effect melting within the Earth.Igneous petrology and mineralogy looks at the composition of the melts and how this effects the style of eruption. And meteorology and ecology looks at effects on climate and impacts on life.

Most volcanologists start with basic geology degrees and either begin to focus their studies at later stages. Once qualified, there are several career avenues volcanolgists can go,

  • University based research; usually done during  masters or doctoral studies but some stay on at the university looking in to specific aspects such a eruption prediction, igneous petrology, climatic effects or volcanic history.  Samples are collected on field trips, then these are studied back in university laboratories.
  • Volcano observatories (VO’s); based near to a particular volcano or volcanic field. Here activity will be very closely monitored and warnings issues if needs be so that local populations are as safe as possible living near an active area. Research is also taking place on what makes this precise system tick and how we can predict future events.
  • Volcanic ash advisory centers (VAAC’s); there are nine around the world with the London branch being apart of the Met Office. Here atmospheric conditions are looked at during and after an eruption and most importantly it is the job of the VAAC to liaise with the aviation industry on whether or not flights can take place when high amounts of ash have been emitted.
  • Governmental advisories; cities such a LA prone to things like earthquakes have permanent disaster teams in place, constantly looking at safety and evacuation plans and are on call for any event. Here in the UK we have the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (known better as COBRA)  a room in Whitehall where goverment official, cheif of police and relative advisers in their field  (medical, scientific etc) meet when a crisis occurs.
  • Education; many volcanologist’s I know actually work as teachers or professors in secondaries of universities teacher broader geology, geography or science. Volcanology is more of their past time then full time career.

For myself, I am aiming to work in a VO or do university research. Volcanology and geoscience as a whole has come on leaps and bounds in the last century but there is still so much we don’t know. These unknowns could mean the deaths of hundreds at smaller scale of things to the end of the human race when looking at large scale events such as supervolcanoes or flood basalt provenances

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