Tag Archives: volcanology

The Legend of Zelda: Volcano of the Wild

Hello everybody, we have our first guest blogger looking at the representation of volcanism in videogames! We have Ed McGowan taking us through the gorgeous environment of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild! Sit back and enjoy, it is awesome. If you want to have a go yourself, just let me know and I will give you the space here to write up!


The latest game in the Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild (BotW) throws out the rule books of the semi-rigid storyline structure well known to all Zelda players. Instead, BotW was the flagship of the Nintendo Switch, and so designed to show off the full capabilities of their new console. With a map bigger than any of the previous games, BotW offers an open-world gaming experience with a Zelda skin, where you are free to climb any and every mountain, exploring every single nook and cranny possible, all the while reminded it’s a Zelda game by name drops of the Master Sword, Princess Zelda, Hyrule and more.

One such popular Zelda classic is the volcanic region, Death Mountain. Having appeared in 9 of the 19 Zelda games to date, this is one of the franchise’s most well-known landmarks. Usually Death Mountain is an average sized active volcano with a path up to the dungeon entrance that is found within the volcano itself. However, thanks to BotW’s developers focusing so much effort into creating gorgeous scenarios, this game’s Death Mountain is massive! And taking full advantage of the game’s open-world-ness I made sure to leave no molten rock unturned!

To keep in line with the other reviewed games, I’ve continued Jazmin’s criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic for:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

Results: They really did pack this game with a lot of content…

BotW (2)

Like with any volcanic area in a videogame, BotW couldn’t make it that easy to access Death Mountain thanks to the game’s new temperature feature. The closer to the volcano I got, the hotter things became. Soon my temp gauge reached 37°C, beyond this point the gauge breaks (saying ‘error’) and things quickly become a problem. The first is that any wooded weapons equipped ignites and if left burning for too long are destroyed… Remain here for a few more seconds and your clothes ignite, causing fairly quick health damage till death…If you teleport in at a closer distance to the lava lake or volcano itself then death is near instant.

BotW (1)

Looking up the autoignition temperature (the temperature at which things spontaneously catch on fire) for oak (because the game has acorns), the US Department of Agriculture found that oak could last 30 seconds at 430°C before igniting. As for cotton (I assume that’s what the basic clothes are made of in this game), autoignition temps are also around 400°C, depending on how wet the cotton is. No wonder the temperature gauge breaks. Although a sudden temperature increase from 37°C to 400°C in a single step sounds a bit much.

The only way to bare the scorching temperatures is to at, first drink fireproof elixirs made of locally found fireproof lizards, which only last a couple of minutes, until better fireproof clothing (like the silver space-looking suit real volcanologists have to wear) can be purchased in the aptly named Goron City (home of the Gorons).

Now it’s truly time to explore!

First up is a look at the physical volcanology. One of the few obstacles met on the way to Goron City is a still hot lava flow (fig b), that has been channelled down the valley, covering the path. A simple climb up to continue on track, but still a nice sight to see.

Next up is the lava lake north of Goron City (fig c), fed by lavafalls from a second smaller lava lake that surrounds the main cone, like a three-tiered fountain! To me, it looks like each tier of the fountain is an old caldera (rim marked out in red lines on the map), now acting as a bowl to contain the flowing lava.

BotW (2)

Volcanoes found within old volcanic craters are very common on Earth, forming after the caldera collapses and a new volcano dome begins to grow (e.g. Anak Krakatau, or volcano island inside Taal volcano). Here’s a time lapse of a lava dome forming within Mt St Helens’ crater:

Continuing further we finally reach the active cone of Death Mountain. When first reaching the mountain, it is very restless due to a ‘divine beast’ roaming around the crater (left flank of fig a), causing a plume of ash and lava bombs to be thrown into the air. Like with Jazmin’s review of Lego Marvel Superheroes 2, the ash plume from Death Mountain unrealistically rises up and evenly disperses in all directions instead of being blown in a prevailing wind direction.

The final physical volcanology aspect I found lies just NE of Death Mountain and was not something I expected to find, a tall pillar sticking up in the middle of a crater. Its purpose in the game is to act as a mini climbing challenge to reach the shrine on top (BotW’s mini dungeons), but how on earth would something like this realistically form?

BotW (9)

One option is that it was part of the volcano that was flung in the air by a very powerful eruption, smashing to the ground and formed an impact crater. Very plausible…

The other option is that it is a volcanic plug, eroded out and exposed. These form when lava within the volcano’s vent cools, corking the volcano like a bottle of champagne. When the surrounding host rock is less resistant to erosion than the plug, they are often left exposed as tall pillars of volcanic rock. Examples of volcanic plugs can be found across the world. One of the most well-known examples is the Devils Tower in USA.

Devils Tower

The other volcanic part of this game I want to quickly cover is the hazards posed to locals, as despite volcanoes being as deadly as they are, people still live within their shadow. In Death Mountain’s case it’s the Gorons.

Goron City is dangerous enough to human standards with its intense heat and rivers of lava flowing through the streets. But during the divine beasts rampage the ‘magma bombs’ (technically lava bombs because they’re above ground but I’ll let Krane off), are mentioned to be falling daily (fig b), which even to strong Gorons are a deadly hazard.

But why would they live in such a dangerous place, as is the case with so many people in real life? The reason is the rare ores they mine (fig c). Volcanic porphory deposits can host many riches such as copper, silver and even diamonds. As a result, people live in dangerous, volcanically active areas such as Chile and Bolivia for copper and silver.

But I suppose when Death Mountain is less active the risks are less severe, it is actually a nice place to live. Similar to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, there are a few volcanic hot springs on Death Mountain that actually restore your health if you swim in them (but do keep your head above water unlike that little one).

BotW (13)

1. Aesthetics: 10

  • The game was designed to look beautiful, and I can’t deny they did a good job of it! From the flowing lava to the mountains themselves I can happily just stand and watch the scenery.

2. Accessibility: 10

  • Again, the game was designed to be fully accessible, so you can literally go where ever you wish to. The only thing you can’t do is swim in the lava lake but that’s how it should be.

3. Viscosity: 7

  • See Death and Plausibility.

Death: 7

  • Whilst the fireproof clothing looks heavy enough, you sink into the lava like its water. Lava can be viscous, but I’m sure you’d sink a little slower than this.

BotW (4)

  • Also the massive jump from 37 to 400°C in one step mentioned at the start still gets me.

5. Overall plausibility: 8

  • Death Mountain’s massive size and the sheer volume of lava produced is very big. A lava lake that size would soon start to cool and harden on the surface instead of remaining that molten. But the rest of the volcanism I can’t argue with.


I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! Ed will make another guest appearance in the future with a different game! I might be slow this month, but the next post written from me will be on The Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

Happy gaming 🙂

Spyro: Spyro: The Questionable Volcanism Trilogy

Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 and Lego DC Supervillains: Lego Marvel-at-this-lava (and DC Supervillains)

Volcano-videogame inventory list: Volcano-videogame inventory


Spyro: The Questionable Volcanism Trilogy

Look. I love Spyro. Played the originals on the first Playstation and have been playing the Reignited Trilogy. But honestly…some of the volcano bits got me so confused.

Spyro’s trilogy consists of you taking control of a cute little purple dragon named Spyro, accompanied by also cute little companion Sparx the Dragonfly who is your health indicator. The first game your mission is to find and free adult (strangely all male) dragons trapped in statues. The second game is to collect tailsmens and orbs. The final game sees Spyro collecting dragon eggs stolen from the (strangely all male) dragons from the first game. Third game is more fun by letting you control additional characters: Shelia the Kangaroo, Sergent Bird the…Pengiun, Bentley the Yeti and Agent 9 the Monkey.


  • Xbox One and the console’s version of the Spyro trilogy.
  • Screenshot and video clips function of the console (and a video-to-GIF converter).
  • Cups of tea and snacks.

I also have a criteria out of 10, 1 being unrealistic and 10 being realistic:

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Accessibility
  3. Viscosity
  4. Death
  5. Overall plausibility

It took about a couple of hours to collect the data. Big limitations were: 1) enemies wanted to hurt Spyro while I investigated the levels, so had to go through the whole level and get rid of them first, and 2) a lack of a dedicated photography mode (I will showcase how awesome these are for Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed at a later stage).

Results: Questionable in places.

Spyro the Dragon

The first game is a little lacking in volcanism, which is fine. Just means the dragon’s world is not that volcanically active?

First example that might be considered lava was found in the ‘Dark Hollow’ level:

Spyro1_Dark Hollow
It hurts Spyro like lava (see Spyro 2). But is reflective like water. But its physics make it seem viscous. Its confusing.

This area had two self-contained pools of this blue-purple stuff. You had to jump/glide over the platforms to reach some enemies, collect some gems and a chest key. So, can we link this weird pool of blueberry death to real world volcanism? Why yes, we can!

Some eruptions produce “cerulian blue eruptions”, like these photos of Kawah Iljen volcano in Indonesia. The “blue lava” occurs due to the combustion of sulphur as it comes into contact with oxygen. So it is technically the gas that is burning blue-purple in the above photo. Not the pool of death. So…this means that whatever it is, it is hot and has a lot of sulphur coming off it.

I have been told this is not “technically blue lava” but it is way more easier to say than cerulian blue eruption. This blue lava actually corresponds nicely to the next example of volcanism I came across in the ‘Peace Keepers’ home world:

Spyro1_Peace Keepers (1)

Spyro1_Peace Keepers (2)
Spyro and Sparx for scale. Tiny little vent!

It appears that for this particular area of the dragon world, there is a lot sulphur…maybe. I do not know. The bigger vent in the first photo does not appear to have a high viscosity, quite the opposite really, it is quite runny.

The last example in the first Spyro game comes from the mini-boss level ‘Jacques’.

What I can accept is the plausibility of lava falls and that they are quite runny and free flowing. We only need to look at Kilauea for a direct real life comparison:

What I do have an issue with is the infrastructure built up around the flows. Like…the risk assessment must have been horrendous. Even still, imagine the number of days without injuries at work count! If we are going on the basis that Kilauea’s lava is up to 1,140ºC when it enters the ocean, the amount of potential harmful volcanic gases emitted (absent in games) and splashing of lava (only in the form of wisps of glowing embers in the photos) it seems like unless the builders were constantly in protective suits and highly resilient to really hot temperatures…it does not seem plausible. Maybe fairies did it.

  1. Aesthetics: 8
    • It is a very pretty game, but for the lava flows some detail is missing to show flow complexity.
  2. Accessibility: 9
    • All examples you can go up to them, touch them, get hurt and lose a life. Just wish I could have gotten to the top of those lava falls.
  3. Viscosity: 8
    • Pretty good for the lava falls but I question the collective pool at the bottom. The flow of the blue lava vent seems good too, but lacks detail.
  4. Death: 6 (see Spyro 2)
  5. Overall plausibility: 8
    • The blueberry pool of death and the infrastructure around the lava falls brought the mark down.

We move onto the next game! Where all volcanology knowledge is just thrown out of the window for one level.

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!

This was my favourite within the trilogy. So I was paying special attention. The first level I will talk about is ‘Skelos Badlands’:

Set in a prehistoric setting with cavemen, dinosaurs and dancing skeletons I like the range of volcanism in this level. Right from the start we have a lava fall and flow, which similarly to the ones in the previous game, lack the detail when there is a change in flow from a near perfect straight vertical to a near perfect straight horizontal direction.

But we have something new…lava bombs! Spyro can hold one in his mouth, and then spit at an an enemy to kill them. Who needs to breath fire anyway? What is questionable about them is how perfectly circular they are. Each new bomb gets (conveniently) erupted from the nearby lava flow, does a little bounce and then lays motionless waiting. In reality, lava bombs come in all different spaces and sizes. But the appearance of it, with some of it cooled and crusted over, and other parts still molten, is accurate.

Oh FYI, this is how lava hurts Spyro in the three games:


In reality, you would not be able to survive full direct contact four times…or at least not in the way that implies that Spyro’s butt gets burnt four times before being cremated. Being on top of the lava and then slowly sinking in it might be plausible though. But I would not go try that.

In any case, I like this level…check out where this complex lava flow takes you! Through a giant dinosaur’s skull and innards into a cave no less!


Next, I’ll briefly go over the lava bodies found in the level ‘Breeze Harbour’.

Spyro2_Breeze Harbour

Some sort of metal infrastructure appears either next to the lava pools or are standing objects within it. Not to mention that sentient spiky mines jump around within the pools that you need to use a cannon to destroy them for an orb.

As this standing lava pool is yellow and in some places white, the temperature of it is around about 1,000 – 1,200ºC, maybe higher. Metals and alloys have different melting points and according to the chart in the link, carbon steel and stainless steel would withstand the temperatures. I did not know that!

Another brief look at the level “Fracture Hills” that features Scottish Satyrs, fauns, dancing pigs, murderous vegetation and rock golems that can only be killed this way:

Spyro2_Fracture Hills to Gif.gif

We have a mixture of comedy as the golem comes to the realisation that it is about to die and the unrealistic exploding into a pieces. In reality, rock just gets swallowed up by lava. So the golem should have just slowly sunk to its doom.

Okay…now to the level in the game that really confused me. This is the introductory video to the level ‘Magma Cone’:

Spyro2_Magma Cone to Gif (1)

Multiple questions ran through my head when I watched it:

  • Why are they chilling right there?
  • A few precursory tremors and a little bit of Strombolian activity?
  • Wait…that’s a volcano?!
  • But the volcano is made out of brick?
  • Hey, that guy clearly knows something is up…why are you ignoring him?
  • Oh hell that’s a big lava bomb right?!
  • Oh sh…he’s dead right?
  • Wow…this is not the time to be all ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and just continue chilling when a volcano just killed someone right next to you mate. Should probably warn people and get out of the way?

Alas, things do not get more logical in this level.

Spyro2_Magma Cone

These walls feature all around the level area and what intrigues me are the two glowing layers. Sure enough, you can still have a hot layer when another is added on top, but I do not know any examples where two thin layers just remain hot and glowing like the above photo and do not seep into the layers below them. Unless it is a complex lava tube system. Which in this case, is not.

Next video adds question marks for this level. An ice cave within a really obvious volcano cone.

Spyro2_Magma Cone to Gif (2)

I mean…sure maybe you could have climbable walls built into a volcano that you knew would not erupt again, like this mini one. But this ice cave with popping green (lava?) crystals from green glowing veins seems a bit sketchy. Although, caves made by lava flows is not uncommon: they are lava tubes/caves. The green crystals could even be perfect-every-time olivine. Lava tubes can even form under ice and glaciers:

2018-12-19 19.37.29
Taken in 2012 from an expedition to study lavas that traveled under ice during the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption in Iceland. Many thanks to Ben Edwards (@lava_ice) for letting me use this photo.

But here is where this level lost me completely:

Spyro2_Magma Cone to Gif (3)

Yes. Spyro did stop the volcano erupting by just climbing up it and closing the lid of it. No. No you cannot put a lid over a volcano.

  1. Aesthetics: 8
    • Same as the first game.
  2. Accessibility: 9
    • Same as the first game, but this time I can go into a couple of volcanoes.
  3. Viscosity: 8
    • Same as the first game.
  4. Death: 6
    • Maybe because Spyro is a dragon, so he experiences it differently.
  5. Overall plausibility: 5
    • I am sorry but you cannot put a lid on a volcano.

Back to limited volcanism examples and less confusion.

Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon

This game I think is certainly the most challenging of the three. But what is not challenging is the volcano-related stuff. The first example that has volcanism right in the foreground and background is the level ‘Molten Crater’:

Spyro3_Molten Crater (1)Spyro3_Molten Crater (2)

Lava lakes would explain the background. But then I do wonder if the level you run around in is an island within a gigantic volcanic crater? From the level name that does sound like that is the case. Do not think that is possible though. Unless, the level is a giant, complex lava dome? But having areas where there is lava coming out of the dome as well as built infrastructure is a bit unrealistic.

La Soufriere St. Vincent’s lava dome. There are some fumaroles (white bit on the left of it) but no running lava. This is common even for more “active” volcanoes with lava domes.

So separately, the volcanism in this level is sound…just together its a bit questionable! Last evidence I found of volcanism in this game is the introductory level of Sgt. Bird…a flying penguin.

Spyro3_Sgt. Bird (2)Spyro3_Sgt. Bird (1)

Flying penguins aside, we have a tunnel of lava which can be translated to a lava tube that still has lava flowing through it. Some lava tube roofs can partially or completely collapse, creating “skylights” but, it looks like the roof’s integrity is pretty solid to stand up on its own. Last image to share were large crystals outcropping of the walls that surrounded an area with lava pools. Considering they are green, embedded in walls that does look similar to the ‘Magma Cone’ level and near lava, I’m going to say its oversized olivine.

  1. Aesthetics: 8
    • Same as the first two games.
  2. Accessibility: 9
    • Same as the first two games.
  3. Viscosity: 8
    • Same as the first two games.
  4. Death: 6
  5. Overall plausibility: 8
    • Island level in the middle of a lava lake brings the mark down.

Overall, the volcanism is plausible in some places and others not so much (looking at you Magma Cone lid) in Spyro’s universe. Regardless, it has been great to play the original trilogy in its scaled up glory!

Next post, I will be looking at The Shadow of the Tomb Raider! Until then, happy gaming 😀


Doing historical volcanology

So every year I say I should do more blogging…we will see how that goes. But in the mean time, I asked Twitter for some ideas of what to write and got this suggestion from my friend and fellow PhD volcanologist Geoff Lerner (he is doing some awesome stuff out in New Zealand, do check out his Twitter!)


So using inspiration from Geoff…I’m going to attempt to give a general overview of how historical volcanology works.

dog and book gif

To begin: how did we come to know about the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, and the destruction of Pomepii and Herculeum? The observations of Pliny the Younger. He was a man who lived in the distant past who observed a volcanic eruption. We also have countless volcanology studies about the eruption (and others that happened since). We also have unearthed archaeological sites and artefacts. Thanks to all this evidence, we now know that this eruption happened and its impacts on the surrounding society.

…and I guess we have the movie now?

A historian is a person who researches past events that relate to humans through narratives. Volcanologist one way or the other look at past volcanic eruptions…so you could say we are “Earth” historians.

Look I just googled “history gif” and I do not know why it is of an animated iceskater okay?

Volcanology in itself is diverse and researchers come from all different backgrounds: geology, petrology, geophysics, engineering, geochemistry  – I labelled here a number of “physical” science disciplines. In volcanology we are increasingly seeing the inclusion of the “social” sciences when exploring the impacts of volcanism on an exposed population.

Historians use tangible (sites, objects, instruments, remains) and intangible (memories, narratives, indigenous knowledge) artefacts. So a historical volcanologist uses tangible and/or intangible artefacts to understand past volcanic events from the human perspective. For me, I have mainly used intangible artefacts, with written records in archives and interviewing people remembering an eruption. Archaeologists are particularly good at using tangible artefacts, with plenty of research out there of looking at deep past volcanic events and their impacts on early human civiliations.


If a volcanologist looks at past volcanic events, combining the understanding of how people responded to the event within the historical and social context, with the scientific understanding of volcanism, it provides a richness and numerous perspectives of the story of an eruption that may not have been captured if doing a single disciplinary approach. Looking at the past, we can see how much the volcano and the society that live around it, have changed or not. Further social volcanology studies for a given volcano would benefit from the historical perspective in this way. Furthermore, a “traditional” physical volcanology study would complement a historical volcanology study and vice versa. One or the other could find things the other had not found before, which could lead to a fuller picture of what happened!


So to end this post I have compiled a little checklist I have gained during my PhD doing a historical volcanology project:


  1. Whatever “physical” science approach to volcanology you use, think outside of the box of how it would be beneficial to the society who has to live with the particular volcanic region you are researching;


2. This is important for every volcanologist – do your research on your volcano: its past activity, current activity, what signs and hazards it is known to produce and any probablitic scenarios of any potential future impact on society;

3. And now we take it up a notch: do your homework on your volcano in the context of the society who had to live with it. Here I mean the social and cultural significance of the volcano, what they knew and do not know about it, and perhaps most importantly (if using intangible artefacts): what language was used to describe what they saw and felt about the volcano? In times of activity would be a priority, but if you have the time (and money) look at quiet periods too;


4. And now, if you are looking at a historical eruption and you want to see what is in the archives* ask yourself: has the language to describe any volcanic phenomena associated with the volcano, similar or different to the present? You will need to be very aware that in the past, especially before the modern notions of “volcanology” as a science, people were very descriptive when observing volcanic activity (think “curtains of fire”, “it grew dark during the day”, “we heard rumblings” and so on);

*Using archives first requires identifying a collection: in most places this is available online, others it requires contacting the specific department and arranging a visit to see what is there. If a collection may prove useful, be prepared to go down some rabbit holes and not come back up for a while…it takes perseverance to find what you are looking for.

rabbit hole
Actual representation of what it is like doing archival work

5. Be respectful of the words written/spoken, objects etc. of those who are no longer here. As a volcanologist, and as a scientist, you can interpret what was observed with rigour but never dismiss other people’s own interpretations when they were within the moment, observing a phenomena they may have never witnessed before. Like all disasters, volcanic eruptions induce stress and anxiety (usually temporarily, but sometimes longer), occurring in their own social and cultural context that is different from your own;

6. Be extra mindful when researching volcanoes in countries that were colonised/occupied. I say this because written records that have survived are usually of one dominant “voice” and many others have either been manipulated or silenced. For my investigations into the 1812 and 1902-1903 eruptions of La Soufrière, I found that the voices of women, children, African slaves, freed persons of colour and indentured servants were almost entirely absent or manipulated (the experiences of myself, my family and POC friends allowed me to have a trained eye to stereotypical/racist language and behaviour). I tried to correct this by doing my interviews for the 1979 eruption by including men and women of varying ages and ethnicities – remember: each voice who provided a narrative is valid as many people experienced these violent events with their own education, experiences and perceptions;

7. Seek out local historians, they may know information that you could not find. I have been in contact with a local Vincentian historian who has been super helpful in pinpointing locations that no longer exist on maps today – then of course give credit where credit is due;

8. Lastly, give back! I have used documents from multiple archives in 3 different countries, all have had a dedicated curator/librarian to help me find what I needed and are super keen to help in anyway possible. As a way of saying thanks and to provide knowledge for any future researcher, give a copy of your finished work to the archive you used. For public dissimination, certainly put the country whose volcano you are researching first – you may be as creative and collaborative as you like!

Historical volcanology has been a new and exciting avenue to me, I have learned a lot about the volcano, the country, its people and myself. I know people say “leave the past in the past” but how else would we know how to better ourselves as a people and know how far we have come in living on this dynamic planet?

To embrace the future…why not start with the past!


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!)