Tag Archives: volcanology

To aspiring girls everywhere

Hello! The Inthecompanyofvolcanoes blogging ladies have called upon women who do volcanology around the world (including myself) to share why love what they do and encouraging words to girls (and boys) to get into STEM and geoscience. 

It’s an inspiring read with so many fantastic women featured, so do check it out and share with kids! You can find it here.
It will be updated as time goes on, so do check it out every now and then! 


Cities on Volcanoes 9 experience

Upon returning from US fieldwork, I only had a number of weeks to create a conference poster and be on my way to the airport. I was preparing for the Cities on Volcanoes 9 (CoV9) international conference in Puerto Varas, Chile.

I did not know what to expect from the country or the conference. Luckily, both exceeded my expectations. I learned a lot from those who viewed my poster to the talks and other posters, met/made many new contacts and friends, as well as seeing some familiar faces.

CoV is an international conference occurring every 2 years hosted at an alternative city in the vicnity of a volcano(es). The aim is to bring together volcanologists, disaster managers and other researchers concerned with volcanic impacts on society, through the promotion of inter/multi-disciplinary research and establishing colloboration between physical and social scientists, as well as stakeholders like town planners. The particular theme for this year was “Understanding volcanoes and society: the key for risk mitigation”. CoV is part of the IAVCEI (International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior), which represents all volcanologist throughout the world.

I am not entirely sure how many delegates there was, but it certainly had to be over 500. There was such a rich representation of research across the world, in poster and oral form. There was a lot of them so it was impossible to sit in all talks and speak to everyone about their poster. My priority is to stick the talks and posters that are relevant to my project as well as my research interests, then if I have the time to see/read others, then I will.

Talks/posters I focused on related to agricultural impacts of volcanic eruptions, risk perceptions, historical reconstructions of volcanic eruptions, lahars, PDCs, risk and politics.

The conference itself had opportunities to visit some volcanoes (Chaitén, Calbuco, Osorno and the Laguna del Maule Volcanic Complex) before, during and after the conference. Unfortunately I could not afford any of them but luckily the ones during the conference were included, to visit either Calbuco or Osorno. I chose Calbuco, as it erupted last year. As this was a recent eruption that was on the ‘door step’ of Puerto Varas, it was talked about a lot at the conference. Wired has a nice summary of the activity.

Del Rio J. (2015) Calbuco in eruption, taken in Puerto Varas.

We went to an area that was impacted by lahars, but a year on the rivers/streams have been cleared and artifically transformed, mainly by moving the bigger boulders on the banks. There was a primary school in this area…right under Calbuco to be exact. We walked up the river to a destroyed fish farm. The building was still standing, but was far beyond being operational again with the giant boulders that the lahar carried down. Walking up a little bit more we came to the waterfall in which the lahar came down, it was impressive to see if not slightly unnerving that a vast amount of water filled with volcanic material flowing down the river with such severity. The most interesting part was that we went back to the school and got first hand experiences from a number of individuals from the surrounding villages. The main things that I took away from their experiences were:

  • As farmers, their main priority was to secure their livelihoods. They accepted the risks and did everything they could to save their livestock;
  • For many, this eruption was the first they experienced, so a lot of things were learnt as the eruption of occurring;
  • They were fully aware of their needs, but the government did not and tried to impose what they thought they needed and ignoring what the villages really needed. This frustrated the communities and in the end they had little assistance from the government;
  • Throughout the event and afterwards, they built and maintained community resilience, social cohesion and social networks, key aspects of withstanding hazardous impacts.

Overall, I am so glad I went. I met some great people, learned a lot and have had valuable feedback from those who came to look at my work on the historical impacts of La Soufrière on the agricultural industry. Most importantly, it gave me confidence and belief in my work and that I could be a valuable member of the social volcanology community.

I am looking forward to the next one in 2018, when it returns to Naples! Hopefully I will be a stage to give a talk.



Guest blogger on In the Company of Volcanoes

I have done a guest blog post for ‘In the Company of Volcanoes’ introducing my area of historical and social volcanology, have a look:

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog, some awesome stuff by two volcanologists in the States.


Dominance of nature versus a volcano/culture versus nature?

*This is a work in progress, and is a documentation of my thought processes on an argument…so bare with me with any inaccuracies.

This morning, I came up with an interesting observation from my current data, the data from my MSc thesis, a cultural observation and the literature.

A mentality that I believe has an Imperialist/colonial legacy, is apparent not just here but throughout the Caribbean that nature is there to be dominated. It can be observed all around, with the conversion of the forests into plantations, villages that are on and around the mountains (particularly on the Leeward side), and tunnels cutting through possibly, geologically important areas. Does this cultural trait, in combination of other factors (that I am still trying to piece together), create the certain geoculture I am beginning to piece together?

Social housing for those displaced by hurricanes. This little hamlet is just beyond Byera Village on the Windward side of the island, where I stayed for my MSc fieldwork in 2014. In the background would be Mt Brisbane, an extinct volcanic centre.


A volcano cannot be “controlled” like a river, which can be culverted like a stream has over here for the construction of the Argyle International Airport. From what I have observed in the data, La Soufrière’s eruptions (and likely other volcanoes as well), have led to a feeling of awe, fear/dread and helplessness. It has prompted religious responses and interpretations. Interestingly, there was an increased number of marriages following the 1902 eruption (I was surprised when I came across that information!) 45 % of 100 people questioned for my MSc study on risk perceptions, believed God was in control of its eruptions and there is a lack of self-confidence in their preparedness and self-efficacy in the case of a future volcanic crisis. There is an attitude that there is a lack of interest in personal preparedness, but a high demand in those in authority to “do something”. Are these feelings connected to a need to dominate nature, but for a volcano and its impacts, it cannot be dominated?

Helpless man
Jai (1979) The Soufriere experience. Published in ‘The Star’ on the 28th April 1979.
In the ‘Annual colonial report for St Vincent 1902-1903’ held at The National Archive and Document Service of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I would love people’s thoughts on this. Have you come across this in your work? What am I missing? Am I talking utter nonsense?

That is all for now


Volog no. 2

Cannot believe a month has gone by already! I would say it has gone very well so far.

I have adjusted to the weather, got 7 out of 8 guard dogs to not bark at me every time I leave and return to the house, I am just about coping with mosquitoes and sand flies biting me and I have not been homesick yet.

The work is going well. With help from the archivist, I have obtained copies of documents related to the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions. Things that, along with items from the Yorkshire Museum, British Library and The National Archives, will help piece my project together. There have been items here which completes a paper trail that began in London. In those moments, I definitely said to myself, “Oh, so that is what happened!”

One example was within the Windward Island governor dispatches for 1903, held by The National Archives, where there was a proposal brought forward by an estate owner, Mr Alexander Porter, to repair a canal in the ‘Carib country’ (lands in the north of the island), as a result of damage caused by the 1902 eruption. Over here in St Vincent, I found that in 1907-1908, the proposal was approved and the method of payment and employment to reconstruct the canal was discussed.

I am relatively new to using archives for research but I do have to say, besides overcoming the ‘calming’ process (ironically is not calming at all), it is quite fun. I feel like I am on a treasure hunt!

Besides the archive, I have managed to talk to people about what they remember of the 1979 eruption. So far, all in their own way have been insightful and I believe what they have to say will benefit my project. One thing that had not occurred to me, but now will need to consider, is the movement of people during the eruptions. I have come across the general evacuation routes of people for 1812 and 1902, but with the interviews, I can demonstrate that it is not that straightforward. It depends on people’s social networks (a factor in resilience) and the household’s mobility.

For instance, I spoke to a man from Chateaubelair. He told me that he was inside and heard someone yelling, “Soufriere! Soufriere! Soufriere is acting up!” he then went outside to see what the fuss was about. When he saw the rising ash plume, 6 miles from the town, he, his wife, and his son, walked approximately 4 miles to an evacuation centre in Barrouallie, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. On the other hand, another man living in Chateaubelair, drove his family to a friend in Prospect, approximately 13 miles away from the volcano. He then returned to volunteer with the ambulance service in transporting sick people to Kingstown.

All in all, the stories that people have provided is helping me understand individual and household level responses and actions. I am finding it incredibly enjoyable and honored to hear these stories, I hope I can do more work like this beyond the PhD!

April will be a month to look forward to, I have more people to talk to, (hopefully) more archive items to view and I get to volunteer with the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) during the volcano awareness week, which is being organised with the Red Cross, the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies and, STREVA. Will be nice to see some familiar faces!

That is all for now


St Vincent fieldwork season: an island of past, present and future inspiration

I am known for not writing things down. So sitting down to blog (I think I am going to go with my friend’s suggestion and say ‘volog’) about my first fieldwork season is 3 weeks late.

So, I am in staying on an old plantation estate house called Queensbury, on the island of St Vincent, also known as Youloumain or Hairoun to the Garifuna, the indigenous population who live in the north, where the volcano that I am studying, La Soufrière, resides.

The name La Soufrière is an interesting one. Besides sharing the same name as the volcanoes on Guadeloupe and St Lucia (which can be very confusing looking up for journal articles), it has had a few other names with different meanings, which I have come across in my archival research studying the volcano’s historic eruptions of 1812 and 1902. For a time, it was called ‘Souffrir’, the French word for ‘suffer’, which would be very fitting for the volcano, as it has impacted the society in big ways. The name then changed slightly to ‘Souffrier’, where we can see the corruption of the word taking place. When it eventually became the name we know today, its meaning was ‘the sulphur mine’. But to a number of Vincentians today, it simply means ‘the sulphurer’. In the 1700s archive documents, the volcano was called ‘Morne a Garou’. Morne Garou is the general name given to the overall northern mountain range in which the volcano resides, so the name has persisted. However, Morne a Garou means ‘Dreary Spirit’, which could mean it is related to how the Kalinago and Garifuna perceive the volcano. Indeed, the word ‘volcano’ and its varying hazards do not appear in their language, unlike ‘hurricane’ (‘bebeidi’), where Europeans got the word from when they came to the West Indies and experienced them for the first time. Not being in their language, it could mean that the perception of volcanism was not of nature or physical, perhaps it was spiritual. But I am getting off track here, it is something I want to explore further beyond the PhD.

Dreary spirit
P. Foster Huggins (1902) An Account of the Eruptions of the St Vincent Soufriere. In: Anderson and Flett (1903).
The point is, with my archive research so far, Soufrière has been seen, written, drawn and painted about in varying ways. Stemming back to Daniel Defoe’s skeptical description of the 1718 eruption, which had perhaps been exaggerated for the Mist Journal to attract readers (in fact, a lot of his work was believed to be ‘made up’), to William Turner’s painting of the 1812 eruption (also exaggerated), to the accounts of Mr McDonald, a landowner on St Vincent during the 1902 eruption, and finally, of the re-telling of people’s experiences of the 1979 eruption, the volcano, although creating experiences called ‘mismatch effect’ (different experiences for the same hazardous event), has been inspiring people.

Daniel Defoe (1718) The Destruction of the Island of St Vincent. From the Mist’s Weekly Journal, 5th July 1718.

I do not know about you, but Turner’s and Marlow’s paintings have some similarities.

Tempest Anderson (1902) Refugees in Kingstown, St Vincent. Used with kind permission from the Yorkshire Musuem.
The Nation_May 1979(4)
The Nation (1979) Beware the 13th May. Published in May 1979. A great example of the island’s superstitious geoculture (cultural reactions to geophysical hazards). Friday 13th, a full moon, ouija boards, and predictions were all apparent for the 1979 eruption.
Those who have described the volcano have romanticised the raw power of its natural beauty. During Defoe’s and Turner’s time, this was commonplace. But even for the later eruptions, Soufrière has been viewed as a primal agent of Mother Nature, blissfully in slumber between eruptions, attracting visitors from around the world to admire its luxuriant forests and animals, including the allusive Vincentian parrot (that I am determined to see before I leave), to swim in its crater lake and overall, to take it for granted. It is not until the precursory earthquakes, or even as late as the first actual explosion, that people realise that the volcano is a serious threat to their safety.

My research is reconstructing the events of 1812, 1902 and 1979 using descriptions of the lay-public (and scientists for the 1902 and 1979 eruptions), and its impacts on the society, agriculture and settlements. For 1812, as volcanology as a discipline had not fully materialised, using descriptions to interpret the volcanic phenomena takes skill. But more skill is needed to understand the handwriting (I am getting there!)

SP 46 147 362(8)
Mason (1814) From The National Archives: SP 46 147 362. All written documents relating to the 1812 eruption are like this, got my work cut out for me! Luckily, the newspaper articles are easier to read.
From this, comes the more challenging part, and that is how the Vincentian population responded, coped, mitigated and recovered, and determining the patterns of adjustment and adaptation. This, while placing their reactions and the volcanic eruptions themselves, within the social and wider historical context.

As for me being on St Vincent, this place is not unfamiliar to me. I came here 2 years ago for my masters research on volcanic risk perceptions of the volcano (which inspired me to do the PhD) and my family are from here. My grandfather was born in Barrouallie and was a shark catcher (he has scars to prove it) before heading to the UK like a number of Caribbean migrants back in the 60s and 70s. I am part of the De Freitas clan, Portuguese indentured servants from Madeira that along with Indian indentured servants, were brought to the island to replace the then emancipated slave population. I do find it interesting that having family from volcanic islands and regions (on my father’s side I am part Cameroon), I have become a volcanologist. Not a typical volcanologist mind you, I will be the first to admit that if I am given a volcanic rock or thin section I could not tell you anything! I am one that sees the volcano’s historic and social significance. The purpose of my fieldwork season is to gain archive and oral history insights of the 1979 eruption, so when I get back to the UK in May/June, I can start to compare and contrast my findings for 1812 and 1902, and build a holistic overview of how Vincentians and Soufrière have come to live together. Which has been awesome to see unravel.

One of the best parts are the stories. To boil the PhD down to its most simplest, it is to bring the stories of the three eruptions to life. To show how much of a profound impact volcanism can have on us that live with them. How they drive people towards or away from religion and spirituality. To make people think what is the most important in life. To change the course of politics. To inspire geoscientists of the past, present and future. Even to find love! (Yes, I have a story of the 1979 eruption that created a few love affairs in the evacuation centres). Volcanoes are not just a natural phenomenon that destroy and create all in their path, they are a focal point of societal change.

That is all for now, I shall leave you with a handful of photos I have taken so far of my time here.


On giving my first guest lecture

Yesterday at 2pm to 3pm I delivered my very first guest lecture. I was a nervous wreck and honestly do not entirely know why. Maybe because I was teaching second year students something. Maybe because the lecturer(s) who invited me were keen to hear to what I had to say.

Or maybe because it was my own research and it is only now that my own thoughts are being heralded as ‘good’ so I was spooked that someone actually cared.

But I am being hard on myself.

So this all began when I got the results back from my masters dissertation which was ‘Volcanic Risk Perceptions of La Soufrière, St. Vincent.’ I got a distinction and I was so ecstatic with myself and realised I had an undergraduate lecturer to thank. The lecturer in question (I will not name them just so I do not spook them! Although I am sure this will get to them somehow…) inspired me as a physical geographer, to combine the world of disaster management and particularly the various aspects of community resilience (pretty sure I have given it away now).

So I emailed them with the dissertation attached as a thank you. Almost got emotional but I tried to remain professional, since I had then started my PhD.

They emailed me back saying how great and detailed it was and did I mind coming in to talk to the second year students on the ‘Warning and Informing for Environmental Hazards’ module (yep, given it away now) about it. So after a few exchanges with the current lecturer on the module, I had the date and time. The room location was a little last minute but meh details.

So. This trip was nostalgic. I remember how much I enjoyed and engaged with the warning and informing module and setting foot back onto the campus felt really odd. It is approaching 4 years ago I was an undergraduate at Coventry University. Now I stepped onto the campus with a BSc and a MSc and now doing a PhD.

You can almost smell the nostalgia.
You can almost smell the nostalgia.

One thing that confused me though is that the entrance to the George Elliott building that I used to walk through was no longer there! Literally had a good 30 seconds of “Oh God…WHERE IS THE DOOR?!”

This came across my thoughts for a split second. Not going to lie.

Anyway, after I did find the door I went down (or up? Across?) memory lane when finding the lecturer. Ran into some old faces. Felt really weird.

But the lecturer/PhD student Craig (he is not the inspiring individual I talked about earlier…sorry Craig) was very reassuring when I said I was nervous and we certainly talked about some of the good old times as he was just starting out as a PhD student in my final year.

So the time eventually arrived where we wondered over to the enter confusing (but not as confusing as the Cohen building here at Hull Uni) William Morris building. This building had changed too…luckily the doors were still in the right place.

Found the room and my goodness there was a horrid smell of rotting/fermented/whatever-the-hell-it-was-doing fish. A nice welcome!

Craig, myself…every student entering the room pulled the same expression.

There was also an awkward pillar in the middle of the room. Ah how I missed the impractical rooms. Luckily, I had dual projectors!

So after fumigating the room and a student evaluation form, Craig introduced me and I was let loose.

Not visible to everyone in the room but I was interally panicking. I have no idea why! But I eased into it as I did know what I was talking about. Sure, I stumbled over some of my words and I am sure I forgot to breathe at some point but this was practice. I am speaking at a conference next month…so yeah. Had to suck it up.

The students had just come back from a fieldtrip (good ol’ Slapton!) and yes I was very conscience of the fact that some were fiddling with their phones but at the same time I knew they were listening. I got them to do a quick task of what is hazardous about Coventry to test their perceptions, asked questions about what they could see with the results I was showing and their thoughts on the implications of warning and informing on St. Vincent in regards to the volcanic risk perceptions and I managed to get some good responses! Granted, I was teaching them a complex issue but they seemed to get it (mostly because they had a lecture on risk perceptions before their fieldtrip).

And at the end of the talk, there were questions asked and some good suggestions on how you might go about engaging the populations who do not participate in workshops in order to reduce the generational gap in knowledge I found. Even got a career-type question (and a bit of praise from Craig) on how I ended up where I am now.

So overall, I felt so relieved getting it done and it was great practice. And I shall be reflective right now:

  • Try and calm yourself before giving a talk, it can show when talking!
  • Students may appear not to be listening but you might be surprised!
  • Do not freak out if the entrance you used to go through no longer exists anymore.
  • Embrace the fact that you are now an early-career academic and perhaps might inspire others to follow suit one day (into volcanology I hope!).
  • Having someone who inspires you to become an academic is always a good thing, man or woman.

So thank you El Parker for giving me the opportunity…see you soon!

(Brownie points to all my undergrad buddies who knew the person I was talking about!)



My experience at a conference: VMSG2015

If we are to get technical here I have actually been to another one which took a conference-like approach (minus the posters). The volcanologists at Lancaster hold a ‘Volcano-Ice’ day, which brings together volcanologists who study all aspects of volcano and ice interaction. I remember most of it was centered around Icelandic volcanism but I cannot complain. I mainly went along to it to see what research was going on and it was a day to escape coursework. I enjoyed it.

Now for the Volcano and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) conference it was not only fun, informative, socialable but I think it was character-building for me too. One thing, I had never been to Norwich before so that was an experience to try and find the hotel I was staying at, another was stepping outside my comfort zone and having over 200 people under one roof. I am an odd person, I find being surrounded by large numbers of people uncomfortable. But I managed.

A lot of notes I have to look back over...
A lot of notes I have to look back over…

Oral and poster presentations (including my own poster) captured a whole spectrum of research. Geology, geochemistry, petrology, geophysics, serious games…that is not even all of it, it was such a rich diversity. But that is what volcanology is. You have researchers that study volcanoes and use different ways to study them. Basically, one volcano is viewed and interpreted in so many different ways.

My poster on risk perceptions was a little different (it was mainly based on socio-psychological concepts) but I never felt my work was undervalued or treated differently. Quite the opposite in fact. Volcanologists who had expertise outside my area of interest were reading my poster, asking questions and generally seemed to appreciate how I approached my research.

It was interesting to observe the social dynamics of the conference. People who knew each other really well tended to congregate together. People by university also clustered together. But at the same time, there was mingling (slipping in some magma science there!). It did find it slightly overwhelming that the larger volcano research universities greatly outmatched the tiny number of volcanologists at my university (1 academic, me and 4 students) but I suppose that does not matter, it is what makes us different as a little volcano research group (if you could even call it that?).

It reminded me of Collectormania (or any other kind of Comic Con). Full of people passionate about volcanoes (comics) but have preferences to sub-disciplines (different comic companies and characters). Minus the cosplay and fangirling. Okay that was perhaps a silly comparison.

There was also a workshop on volcanic risk so being interested in it, I went along. There was a smaller number of people and there was certainly great discussions happening around the various topics covered in the workshop. I really enjoyed that and I even added to the discussions. Everyone had different experiences to share and exchange. I will remember for a long time the experience of a woman who was involved in responding to the Mt. St. Helens eruption in the 80s.

As an early-career researcher I found it so valuable to hear the experiences of those who are well established in this vast discipline. I just hope that one day I contribute just as much.

I am looking forward to the next VMSG in Dublin…it is another place I have not been to!