Volcanoes are complicated phenomena that can't be understood without
knowledge of the structure and chemistry of the Earth and its rocks, and
the interaction of volcanic materials with air and water. To really understand
volcanoes it is necessary to study a number of sciences, but the most important
is geology - the study of the Earth's rocks.
To be prepared to study geology at a university or college,
students must take math and science classes when they are in high school and
even in junior high school. It seems unfair, but it is true, that how much you
learn when you are in grade school and high school usually determines what you
will be able to do during the rest of your life. If you want to become a volcanologist
you must concentrate on your classes, even if other kids seem to spend
all their time with sports or
dating or other pastimes. Don't be a nerd; enjoy life, but also be serious about
Here is a list of the types of courses to take in high
school so that you will have the option to study volcanoes later in college if
you want to. Take biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth science if available.
Take algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. And learn Basic or some other computer
language so you can use a computer without being frightened by it.
Where should you go to college?
Very, very few colleges offer even one course in volcanology, but the basic
information you need is taught in geology courses at many universities. Major in
geology, taking courses in geomorphology, geophysics, geochemistry, petrology,
structural geology, sedimentary geology, and remote sensing. If you go to a college
in the American West, or in Hawaii or Alaska, you will probably see a lot
of volcanoes and volcanic rocks during geology field trips.
If you want to be a volcanologist you can't stop with just a bachelor of science degree in geology. With a B.S. your career choices are pretty much limited to being an assistant or technician. This might get you a chance to map volcanoes or analyze rock chemistry under somebody else's direction, but your salary will be low and you will not have the chance to decide for yourself what volcano problems to study. You have to go back to school to get a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in geology. This will probably take four to five years of additional study and research after you have completed a B.S.
The good thing
about getting a Ph.D. is that you will be working with a group of other students
and professors who are as excited about volcanoes as you are. After about a
year of classes you will probably become involved in volcano research, and at
the end of your graduate student days you will know more about one volcano or some
volcanic process than anyone else in the world! You will write scientific papers
and present talks to other
volcanologists at scientific meetings. And you will start to look for a job.
Many volcanologists in the US work for the U.S. Geological Survey, the
government agency responsible for studying the nation's geology and finding ways
to utilize geologic resources, and ways to mitigate potential geologic hazards.
The USGS operates three volcano observatories. The oldest is in Hawaii, on the
rim of the Kilauea volcano. Volcanologists there predict, monitor, and closely study
the eruptions of Kilauea and the
nearby Mauna Loa volcanoes. Another volcano observatory is at Vancouver, Washington,
where Mt. St. Helens and other Cascade volcanoes are monitored. The third
observatory is in Alaska, where geologists from the USGS and the University
of Alaska work together to monitor the 100 active Alaskan volcanoes.
For more information about what it like to work on volcanoes check out the following sections: