Views and Visions: Posts from our People

Emma Singh
PhD Student
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Learning about the 1980 eruption at Mount St Helens. Photo: Emma Singh
Learning about the 1980 eruption at Mount St Helens. Photo: Emma Singh

Volcano visits in the Pacific North West

In August this year, with financial support from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, I attend the 2017 International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) Scientific Assembly in Portland, Oregon, United States. The theme of the conference was ‘fostering integrative studies of volcanism’. This corresponding well with my PhD research, which combines a number of methodologies, integrating hazard, exposure and vulnerability to assess infrastructure disruption during natural hazard events.

I had the wonderful opportunity to present my PhD research in the session on ‘Integrated volcanic risk assessment’. My research looks at the exposure of roads to volcanic ash from a future eruption from Mount Fuji, Japan, with a focus on the impact of road closures on current evacuation plans. I was given valuable feedback on my presentation and was able to discuss my research with experts in the field of volcanology.

I attended numerous talks over the four days of the conference, which enabled me to view the current state of volcanological research from around the world and enabled me to see how my research could help bring new techniques and ideas to the field. I managed to reconnect with old friends and make many more new connections. I was able to critically discuss my findings with various people including the Japanese researchers I visited in Japan during my PhD fieldwork I undertook last year. Their insight and knowledge of my case study area was extremely helpful and their comments will greatly assist me with my thesis discussion. On top of this the conference had a wonderful early career researcher program with social events, mentor programs and Q & A sessions. Student presenters were also graded on their presentations and given helpful feedback for future talks.

The other purpose of this trip was to get up close and personal with active volcanic environments and to learn more about volcanic hazard monitoring and data analysis. The conference had an array of mid-conference field trips and I was lucky to get my first pick to see Mount St Helens in Washington. Mount St Helens is the most active volcano in the Cascade Range. It is most famously known for its 1980 eruption and lateral blast that killed 57 people. It was fascinating to see the volcano up close and to learn how this event changed the landscape around it as well as providing scientists with new insights to volcanic hazards and processes.

After the conference I spent a week at Yellowstone National Park. The post conference field trip presented an intensive overview of Yellowstone and its volcanic history, as well as recent ground deformation, earthquake swarms and hydrothermal disturbances. The trip consisted of a series of half-day hikes and shorter stops at key locations in and around Yellowstone. Activities were oriented toward understanding the region’s Pleistocene volcanic history, regional tectonics, and ongoing caldera unrest.  There were interactive discussions on existing monitoring networks, related data, and challenges to volcano observatories operating in large, remote wilderness settings. This was a beautiful and phenomenal landscape to explore and the sheer size of the volcanic system was mind blowing. Yellowstone Caldera measures ~75-km x 45-km and hosts the world’s largest concentration (>10,000) of hydrothermal features. Yellowstone has been preceded by a number of similar volcanic systems as the hotspot has shifted northeast across North America. From studying these past systems scientists have uncovered that these systems are characterised by bi-modal basalt-rhyolite volcanism. Different from the andesitic volcanoes to the west in the Cascades. A crude progression of each volcanic field before Yellowstone is as follows: basaltic activity to rhyolitic activity (including large super-eruptions, caldera formation and lavas) and back to basaltic activity. All this usually spans millions years. Yellowstone has had three caldera forming eruptions at 2.0, 1.3, and 0.6 Ma, resulting from voluminous rhyolitic ash-flow eruptions. Each of these caldera-forming ash-flow eruptions was preceded and succeeded by large eruptions of rhyolitic lava.Yellowstone is currently characterised by hydrothermal activity and has yet to produce the usual basaltic lava veneer like the systems before it. Yellowstone has always been associated with grave doomsday predictions of cataclysmic eruptions, however, the likely hazards to be associated with this area in our lifetime are earthquakes and hydrothermal explosions. Although a future large caldera-forming eruption from Yellowstone is possible an occurrence of one in the near future is unlikely. 

I am very grateful to the CRC for helping me attend the conference. It was an amazing opportunity and an experience I will never forget. I gained copious information and insights, was able to present my work and the CRC name on an international stage and left with memories, connections and hundreds of photos of volcanoes!

Emma Singh at Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.
Emma Singh at Porcelain Basin, Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.

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