Some of the volcano research topics being explored at UEA:

Petrology and volcanic eruptions

The rocks that are erupted by volcanoes are a fantastic recorder of changing conditions as they make their way through the sub-surface. It is these changing conditions that often determine the way in which a volcano erupts and even whether the magma to the surface at all.

We use a combination of mapping out the textures and compositions of the erupted rocks and the crystals they bring along with them to understand these processes better. We have a long-standing interest in the rocks erupted from the Soufriere Hills Volcano on Montserrat but are also currently working on rocks erupted during the 2006 and 2010 episodes of Mt. Merapi and Ambrym.

Researchers Involved: Jenni Barclay, Richard Herd, and Katie Preece.

Understanding Volcanic Hazards

Quantifying the impact of a volcanic eruption often begins with understanding the dynamic processes that govern the way in which volcanic flows and ash falls behave. At the moment we have a particular focus on the remobilisation of volcanic deposits by rain ( in flows called lahars). For a lot of this work we also collaborate with Sue Loughlin at the British Geological Survey and Paul Cole from the University of Plymouth.

We have also recently been working with Darren Mark at SUERC to improve the way in which we can use Ar-Ar dating to understand eruptive activity through time and in so doing anticipate future activity.

UEA is leading the  NERC-ESRC funded ‘STREVA Project’ (STrengthening REsilience in Volcanic Areas) and more information can found about that here.

Researchers Involved: Jan Alexander (sedimentologist), Jenni Barclay, Paul Cole (Plymouth University)) Melanie Froude, Richard Herd, Anna Hicks, Sue Loughlin (BGS); Darren Mark (SUERRC), Jonathan Stone.

Volcanic Risk Reduction

Understanding volcanic eruptions is never going to actually prevent them from happening. When volcanoes do erupt they can cause both direct loss of life and indirect loss of livelihoods via the destruction of resources and infrastructure such as crops, buildings and water supplies. The nature of the activity and its impact can also shift over the course of an eruption.

Thus, volcanic risk is a complex problem and helping communities to prepare for and to mitigate against changing volcanic activity requires researchers not only to anticipate better that activity but also to understand the role that society, politics and culture plays in creating and eroding resilience to eruptions. To be successful, risk reduction strategies must promote collaboration, integrate diverse knowledge and communicate effectively with populations at risk to allow them to prepare for, cope with and recover from volcanic activity.

We take an evidence-based approach to understanding the role that communication processes play in driving positive responses to volcanic activity (that help people prepare for and live alongside activity) and to understanding volcanic resilience. We are also currently researching the role that citizen science can play in improving scienitific knowledge of volcanic processes and helping those who have to live with volcanoes understand those risks.

In this work we also collaborated with Sue Loughlin at the British Geological Survey, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and with Paul Cole from the University of Plymouth.

UEA Researchers Involved: Jenni Barclay, Melanie Froude, Anna Hicks, Peter Simmons (sociologist); Jonathan Stone

Volcanic Activity and Weather Systems

Meteorological activity, particularly rainfall, has triggered activity at a number of volcanoes: e.g., Mt Saint Helens, USA; Merapi, Indonesia; Unzen, Japan; Soufriere Hills, Montserrat.

With a particular focus on the ongoing eruption at the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat, we have established a clear observational link between heavy rainfall and the subsequent triggering of volcanic activity on a time scale of days to hours.  Simple models of the physical processes within the volcano have revealed a role for rainwater “capping” the volcano and impeding the upward and outward flow of gases from within the volcano.  This leads to a rapid build up of pressure within the volcano, which can then trigger self-sustaining volcanic activity.  Current research in this area is also investigating the effect the volcano has (as, essentially, a mountain with a hot surface) on the development of the weather systems themselves.

UEA Researchers Involved: Adrian Matthews, Jenni Barclay, Peter Hicks, Mark Cooker,  Alex Poulidis, Ian Renfrew.

Volcanic Atmospheric Chemistry

Volcanic emissions are principally composed of water, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, species that are largely inert in the atmospheric system. However recent research has indicated that trace halogen components of volcanic plumes may play a more-significant role in plume chemistry than previously thought, including impacts on regional ozone budgets and mercury chemistry.

Through atmospheric models and field campaigns the goal of this research is to elucidate and quantify the impacts volcanic emissions have on the atmospheric chemical environment.

Researchers involved: Roland von Glasow, Deanna Donohoue, Luke Surl

Photos: 2012 field campaign at Mount Etna