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Mitigating the effects of volcanoes worldwide

Open University research is providing new insights into the process occurring beneath persistently active volcanoes.

Key aspects of this research

  • Engaged volunteers and local communities in exploring natural hazards
  • The formation of an international network of collaborators, mainly local scientists
  • Operational guidelines for monitoring and responding to volcanic crises
  • Helped protect the public against the hazards of volcanic degassing

Hazel Rymer with other researchers

OU research led by Professor Hazel Rymer in the Faculty of Science provides new insights into the process occurring beneath persistently active volcanoes. This work is shedding light on the links between changes in the magma system deep beneath a volcano and the environmental impact downwind of the volcano.Important greenhouse gases, such as sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide are emitted in enormous quantities by some of the world’s volcanoes. Their output accounts for nearly one per cent of the global total.

A key aspect of this research has been the involvement of volunteer citizen scientists and also the way it has engaged local communities.

Citizen scientists

The research has led to the formation of an international network of collaborators working closely with local communities, government-run volcano observatories, universities and citizen scientists who undertake measurements at active volcanoes across the world.

The OU has undertaken much of this research in collaboration with Earthwatch, a charity which brings individuals from all walks of life together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet.

Local people who live near active volcanoes get involved in and are empowered by OU research in this field

Project teams based at the persistently active volcanoes in Iceland and Central America have made significant discoveries which benefited both the volunteers and the environment.

The work has impacted on the lives of the volunteers who collect the data in the field because they are able to contribute in very real terms to scientific research. They disseminate the results through outreach activities in their home environments.

Local stakeholders including park wardens, civil defence officials and those who live near the volcanoes are empowered by this work to engage in monitoring work themselves and to play a part in hazard mitigation.

Protecting the public

Citizen scientist observations at Askja volcano in Iceland suggest that magma has been accumulating underneath since 2007 and colleagues at the Nordic Volcanological Institute increased their surveillance of the area during the summer field seasons of 2009 onwards.

More recently, the group’s work at Poás volcano, Costa Rica, involved citizen scientists in predicting increased local environmental damage from 2009 and helped to inform the volcano observatory staff and National Park officials who restricted access by the public to the crater area during the degassing crisis of 2009–10, reducing the risk of injury.

To mitigate against such hazards, operational guidelines for monitoring and responding to changes in volcanic degassing were put in place in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2009.

Learn more about scientists' work on active volcanoes:

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