OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

What does a volcanologist do?

Category: 
Studying Volcanoes / Volcanology

 

A volcanologists' work, to say the least, can be very exciting. When talking about his volcanology career, Robert Tilling states that "the present is the key to the past - In a sense, we're detectives, trying to decipher clues that rocks tell us." Another volcanologist, Ken Hon, says that being a geologist is kind of like "putting together the pieces of a puzzle." Indeed, both geology and volcanology are very investigative types of work. There are new things waiting to be discovered constantly and a scientists' application of these discoveries to everyday life is never-ending. Richard Fiske probably states it best when he says, "Once you get started in volcanoes, you become a junkie. The Earth is changing and you try to outfox it, understand its past activity and predict what it's likely to do in the future."

While many may think, that a volcanologist's work consists solely on the exciting, adventurous work performed at the lip of an erupting volcano, they would be wrong. In fact, most of a volcanologists' work is done studying the remains of either dead or dormant volcanoes, or by monitoring volcanoes that are dormany, but may become active or "reawaken.". A significant portion of a volcanologists' work is also done in the laboratory and office, analyzing rock samples, reading and writing scientific papers, performing computer modeling of various aspects of eruptions, and interpreting the data that they have collected from the field. Basically, the goals of volcanology are to understand how and why volcanoes erupt, how to predict eruptions, their impacts on the history of the Earth and how they may affect humans and their environment. It is also important for volcanologists to be able to interpret and publish/present their findings in such a way that it is easy for the general public to understand.

Essentially, volcanology can be broken down into four major groups of study. First, physical volcanologists study the actual processes and deposits of volcanic eruptions. Data gathered through this type of study gives volcanologists information about where and how volcanoes are likely to erupt, especially if nobody has seen them presently active. Collecting this data is very time-consuming. Mapping of the distribution of the rocks that make up the volcano, as well as chemical and dating analyses of the samples, leads scientists to information concerning the volcano's past. Second, geophysicists mainly deals with volcanic seismicity, gravity and magnetics. Third, volcano geodesists look the ground deformation that occurs at prior to, during, and after volcanic eruptions. Lastly, geochemists deal with the makeup of the Earth as well as volcanic products, such as emitted gases.