All posts by Lucy

Professor Tamsin Mather elected Fellow of the Royal Society

Professor Tamsin Mather, COMET Scientist and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford, is amongst the distinguished group of scientists who have been elected Fellows of the Royal Society this year. This highly prestigious title is awarded to scientists who have made an exceptional and important contribution to science.

Professor Mather’s work is certainly deserving of this honour, as she has produced significant advances in the understanding of volcanoes and volcanic behaviour. Working across different areas of expertise, her research includes the study of atmospheric chemistry of volcanic plumes, magma movement and the flow of fluids under and through volcanic areas, volcanic deformation, and past eruptive behaviour. The drive behind these varied investigations is to understand volcanoes as a natural hazard, but also as key resources (e.g., geothermal power) and as an important planetary process that contributes to maintaining the environment and driving change. Professor Mather’s contributions to the field include the discovery that volcanic vents perform nitrogen fixation, which may have been crucial during the early evolution of life on Earth, and the potential of the element mercury as a tracer for past large-scale volcanism, with widespread environmental impacts.

The many honours bestowed on Professor Mather for her important contributions to the field include the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award (2018) and Geochemistry Fellowship of the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry (2022), which is bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have made a major, long-term contribution to the field of geochemistry. She is also a Fellow of The Alan Turing Institute for Data Science and AI (2021) and was elected to Academia Europaea in 2021.

Professor Mather’s contributions to science extend beyond her research, including science communication, advocacy, and working to increase diversity and inclusion in the sciences. If you want to hear or read more about her work and experiences, her book, Adventures in Volcanoland, was published in April 2024 and combines exciting scientific discoveries with personal stories, or you could listen to ‘Supervolcanoes’ on the BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage podcast:

Sir Adrian Smith, President of the Royal Society, commented on the list of awards this year:

“I am pleased to welcome such an outstanding group into the Fellowship of the Royal Society. This new cohort have already made significant contributions to our understanding of the world around us and continue to push the boundaries of possibility in academic research and industry. From visualising the sharp rise in global temperatures since the industrial revolution to leading the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, their diverse range of expertise is furthering human understanding and helping to address some of our greatest challenges. It is an honour to have them join the Fellowship.”

COMET would like to offer warm congratulations to Professor Mather on receiving her Fellowship of the Royal Society!

COMET Internship Blogpost – Methods to Measure Volcanic Plume Heights

Name of internship student: Geri Peykova, University of Oxford, Summer 2023

Why Measure Volcanic Ash Plume Heights?

Volcanic eruptions are natural phenomena that can have significant impacts on both local and global scales. One aspect of monitoring volcanic activity is measuring the height of the ash plumes they generate. Understanding the height of volcanic ash plumes is important for aviation safety, hazard management, and mitigating potential impacts on human health and the environment.

Aviation Safety

Volcanic ash poses a threat to aircraft engines, as it can cause engine failure by clogging fuel and cooling systems. Additionally, ash particles can scratch cockpit windows, obscure visibility, and interfere with aircraft navigation systems. By accurately measuring ash plume heights, aviation authorities can issue timely warnings and reroute flights to avoid hazardous areas, minimizing the risk to passengers and crew.

Hazard Management and Mitigation

Measuring volcanic ash plume heights is also crucial for hazard management and mitigation efforts. Ash plumes pose significant risks to human health, agriculture, infrastructure, and the environment. Understanding the height and dispersion of ash clouds allows authorities to assess the potential impact zones and implement appropriate measures to protect affected populations, such as evacuations, ashfall advisories, and distribution of respiratory protection equipment.

Satellite-Based Monitoring of Volcanic Eruptions

Satellites are an important tool for monitoring volcanic eruptions as they provide global coverage, allowing scientists to study volcanic activity anywhere on Earth, including remote and inaccessible regions. These spacecraft provide imagery of eruptions using various channels that capture different wavelengths of light ranging from visible to infrared and beyond. Each wavelength provides unique information about the eruption. For example, visible light imagery reveals the visual appearance of volcanic plumes and lava flows, while infrared imagery detects thermal emissions and provides temperature measurements. The data can also be utilized to find the heights of the eruptions.

Geometric Approach

Perhaps the most intuitive method for measuring volcanic ash plume heights is direct observation. The geometric approach involves imaging the plume from a satellite positioned to look sideways at the eruption and recording its angular size. We can then obtain an estimate of the height of the plume using trigonometry and the known distance to the volcano and zenith angle. The accuracy of this method is limited by the spatial resolution of the satellite instruments, which is typically around 500 meters for visual channels. Night time observations however rely on infrared channels, which have a coarser resolution of around 2 kilometers.

Brightness Temperature Method

The height of the eruption can also be inferred from data collected by a satellite positioned above the volcano, such as through the application of the brightness temperature method. For this technique, we use the fact that the top of the volcanic plume is in equilibrium with its surroundings and hence must match the ambient temperature. To get its altitude, the temperature of the ash cloud is measured from the infrared channels of the satellite and compared to the temperature profile of the atmosphere, derived from satellite data, weather stations and buoys. 

However, the structure of the atmosphere adds complexity to this measurement. In the troposphere, which extends from the Earth’s surface to the tropopause, temperature typically decreases with altitude. Conversely, in the stratosphere beyond the tropopause, temperature begins to increase with altitude. This temperature inversion creates multiple potential heights at which the plume’s temperature matches that of its surroundings. It’s important to distinguish between plumes reaching the stratosphere and those confined to the troposphere as gases and pollutants injected into the stratosphere remain there longer and can impact climate dynamics.

Introducing a New Method

In April 2021, the GOES-16 satellite observed the eruption of La Soufriere on the island of St. Vincent taking an overhead image every minute. The tenfold increase in temporal resolution allowed us to track the evolution of the ash plume in unprecedented detail and capture high-frequency and short-duration events that otherwise occur ‘in between takes’. One of the interesting features that we observed, the formation of waves within the plume, motivated the development of a novel method for measuring the heights of the eruption.

Plume Dynamics

The waves can be seen in the infrared images of the plume as light and dark blue fronts propagating radially outwards from the volcano. These temperature variations correspond to fluctuations in the altitude of air parcels within the ash cloud.

To understand the origin of these waves, imagine a rubber duck floating in a bathtub. When carefully placed in the water, the duck rests at what we term the “level of neutral buoyancy” (LNB) – the level at which its weight is perfectly balanced by the buoyant force. However, if the duck is dropped into the water from a height, it bounces up and down before eventually settling at the LNB. In the latter scenario, the duck’s inertia causes it to sink below LNB. As it sinks, it displaces water, creating an upward buoyant force. This pushes the duck back up and it overshoots the LNB slightly causing it to fall back down again. Similarly, rising air parcels within the ash plume exceed the LNB and experience buoyant forces due to the density difference between the surrounding atmosphere and the volcanic ash-laden air. When these air parcels surpass the level of neutral buoyancy, they oscillate around this equilibrium level, generating waves. 

Buoyancy Waves Method

The frequency at which these waves oscillate depends on the pressure and temperature of the surrounding air. Similarly to the brightness temperature method, we can use atmospheric data to reconstruct a frequency profile, which indicates the allowed frequency at different altitudes. Then to obtain the height, we just need to match it to the measured frequency of waves in the plume. This approach produces a single solution near the tropopause so we can uniquely determine the position of the plume. Moreover, the frequency varies strongly with altitude which significantly reduces the uncertainty of the measurement from hundreds to tens of meters. Finally, using infrared channels rather than visual means that we are not limited to daytime observations.


Observing volcanic eruptions and accurately measuring the height of ash plumes are vital for understanding and mitigating their impacts on society and the environment. Techniques such as the geometric approach, brightness temperature and buoyancy waves methods provide valuable insights into volcanic activity, while advancements in satellite technology continue to enhance our monitoring capabilities. By combining satellite data with innovative methods and scientific insights, we can improve our understanding of volcanic processes and better protect communities from volcanic hazards.

COMET Celebrates International Women’s Day 2024

Today we celebrate all our amazing women at COMET and introduce you to some members of the COMET Directorate.

Meet COMET’s Co-Director Professor Juliet Biggs (Bristol), expert in using satellite techniques to study earthquakes and volcanoes.

Meet COMET’s Centre Manager, Charlie Royle (Leeds), expert in complex, cross-institutional programme delivery and strategic-planning.

Meet COMET’s Research and Events Officer Lucy Sharpson (Leeds), expert in the complexities of supporting multi-institute Centres and event planning.

COMET at AGU Fall Meeting 2023

Meeting Time Zone PST

AGU23 (

Monday 11th December

Session Type Start time End Time Location Session Title COMET Author/Speaker(s)
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T11D-0192 Crustal Structure and Mantle Deformation across the Central African Plateau, Zambia: Evidence from Receiver Functions and Shear-Wave Splitting Analysis Features Mike Kendall (Oxford)


08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) V11D-0099 Seismo-acoustic source mechanism of high-rate very-long-period seismicity at Yasur volcano, Vanuatu: Multi-parametric field studies Features Tom Pering (Sheffield)
Talk 08:40 08:50 2022-2024- West (Level 2, West, MC) GC11C-02 Climate Projections Very Likely Underestimate Future Volcanic Forcing and its Climatic Effects Features Anja Schimdt (Cambridge)
Talk 09:10 09:20 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G11A-05 Tectonic, Climatic and Anthropogenic Deformation over the Tianshan Mountains Qi Ou (Leeds)


14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S13F-0419 Reassessment of Historical Earthquake Magnitudes using Earthquake Ground Motion Simulations and Global Fragility Functions Aisling O’Kane (Cambridge)


14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T13D-0248 Complex Martinique intermediate-depth earthquake reactivates early Atlantic break-up structures Features Lidong Bie (East Anglia)


Tuesday 12th December

Session Type Start time End Time Location Session Title Author/Speaker
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) NH21C-0665 The WTW Research Network and nearly two decades of creative private-public partnerships on the science of geophysical risks Features James Dalziel (WTW Research Network)


08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) GP21A-0529 Paleomagnetic and rock magnetic data constraints on magma emplacement at Ardnamurchan central complex, NW Scotland Features Craig Magee (Leeds)
e-Lightening 08:54 08:57 eLightning Theater VI, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T21G-09 Discovery of Lithospheric Drip Explains Active Uplift in the Uinta Mountains, USA Features Matt Fox (UCL)
Talk 10:40 10:50 152 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) V22B-03 The Highs and Lows of Outgassing at Kīlauea: Comparison of DOAS- and UV Camera-Derived SO2 Emission Rates During Variable Eruptive Activity, 2022-2023 Tom Pering/Tom Wilkes (Sheffield)
Talk 10:50 11:00 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G22A-04 A Comprehensive Observational Database of Global Volcanic Deformation for Deep Learning Applications Lin Shen (Leeds)
Talk 15:26 15:36 155 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T23A-08 One tune, many tempos: Faults trade off slip in time and space to accommodate relative plate motions Features Ed Rhodes (Sheffield)

Wednesday 13th December

Session Type Start time End Time Location Session Title Author/Speaker
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T31E-0257 Non-characteristic slip behavior on the Kekerengu fault throughout the past four to five earthquakes at Bluff Station, New Zealand Features Ed Rhodes (Sheffield)


08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T31G-0268 Deciphering Non-Constant Earthquake Behavior: Insights from the Garlock Fault in Southern California Features Ed Rhodes (Sheffield)




08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S31G-0413 Analyzing low-magnitude induced seismicity using deep learning phase arrival picking: a case study from Preston New Road, UK Cindy Lim (Bristol)
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) V31D-0123 The Rates, Causes, and Dynamic Consequences of Fluid Flow and Reaction in Mountain Belts Alex Copley (Cambridge)


08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) T31G-0274 Fault geometry and Late Quaternary kinematics along the Tieluzi Fault: Implications for tectonic deformation and eastward expansion of the Tibetan Plateau, China Features Ian Pierce (Oxford)
Talk 08:51 08:59 2018 – West (Level 2, West, MC) NH31B-03 Leveraging Machine Learning, Ensemble Precipitation Forecasts and Hillslope-scale Impact Modeling for a Unified Multi-hazard approach to Landslide Forecasting in Nepal Features Maximillian Van Wyk de Vries (Cambridge)
Talk 08:52 09:02 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G31A-03 Strain Rate Mapping and Earthquake Hazard Features Chris Rollins (Leeds/GNS)
Talk 09:32 09:42 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G31A-07 Present-day block kinematics of the India-Eurasia collision zone from a densified GPS velocity field Gang Zheng (Leeds)
Talk 09:42 09:52 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G31A-08 From Türkiye to China: tectonic strains and velocities in the Alpine-Himalayan Belt from Sentinel-1 InSAR and GNSS Tim Wright (Leeds)
Talk 11:00 11:10 2018 – West (Level 2, West, MC) NS32A-04 Nationwide assessment of subsidence induced hazard in Iran using Sentinel-1 InSAR Jessica Payne (Leeds)
Talk 11:20 11:30 154 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T32A-07 Causes and Consequences of the Spatial and Temporal Heterogeneity of Strength, Deformation Mechanism, and Fluid-Limited Metamorphism in a Crustal-Scale Fault Zone Alex Copley (Cambridge)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S33H-0475 Temporal variations in North Atlantic seismicity at varying magnitudes Tim Craig (Leeds)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) V33C-0175 Mixing it up: recycling and mingling of magma during the 1959 eruption of Kīlauea Iki, Hawaiʻi Marie Edmonds (Cambridge)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S33I-0498 Extending pyCSEP: A Python Toolkit for Earthquake Forecast Developers Features Max Werner (Bristol)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S33I-0500 Modernizing Earthquake Forecasting Experiments: The CSEP Floating Experiments Features Max Werner/Jose Bayona (Bristol)
iPoster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G33B-0539 Strain-partitioning in the Northern Qilian Shan and its Implications for Cascading Earthquake Ruptures Features Sam Wimpenny (Bristol)
Talk 14:12 14:27 157 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) S33B-01 San Andreas fault earthquake hazard model overturned by precariously balanced rocks (Invited) Features Dylan Rood (Imperial)
Talk 15:15 15:25 2016 – West (Level 2, West, MC) NH33A-07 An automated, regional-scale rapid mapping tool for multiple landslide events: testing a proof-of-concept case study from New Zealand 2023 Features Alessandro Novellino (BGS)
e-Lightening 16:21 16:24 eLightning Theater V, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G24B-08 High-Resolution Change Detection for Time Series InSAR using Random Forests Jacob Connelly (Leeds)
Talk 17:20 17:30 2014 – West (Level 2, West, MC) IN34B-09 The utility of commercial satellite data for studying global volcanic activity: Successes, challenges, and future prospects Features Susanna Ebmeier (Leeds, Juliet Biggs (Bristol), Edna Dualeh (Bristol)


Thursday 14th December

Session Type Start time End Time Location Session Title Author/Speaker
Invited Talk 08:45 08:55 155 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T41A-02 A Unified Physical and Chemical View of Orogen Evolution (Invited) Alex Copley (Cambridge)
Invited Talk 08:45 08:55 158 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) G41A-02 Understanding the episodic feeding of volcanoes: Identifying their magmatic and non-magmatic origin (Invited) Camila Novoa Lizama (Leeds)
e-Lightening 08:48 08:51 eLightning Theater V, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) V41G-07 The 4th Diking Event of the Fagradalsfjall Rifting Episode (2021-?) in July 2023: Geodetic and Seismic Imaging of the Dike Propagation and Effects of Imposed Stresses on the Dike and the Associated Eruption Features Andy Hooper (Leeds)
Talk 08:55 09:05 155 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T41A-03 Constraining lithospheric rheology in continental forelands using seismicity and flexural profiles Tim Craig (Leeds)
Talk 09:40 09:50 153 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) V41A-08 Sulfur Recycling at Subduction Zones: Reduced Sedimentary Input Supplies Oxidized Arcs Features Tamsin Mather and David Pyle (Oxford)
e-Lightening 10:20 10:23 eLightning Theater V, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G42B-01 Deformation Patterns of Different Chilean Volcanic Zones: Insights from GNSS, InSar, and Seismic Observations Features Camila Novoa Lizama (Leeds)
Talk 10:30 10:40 151 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) DI42A-02 Plate tectonic dynamics from the PI-LAB experiment at the equatorial Mid-Atlantic from anisotropy in comparison to other ocean basins Features Mike Kendall (Oxford)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) V43E-0217 Just add water: degassing and sulfide saturation control magmatic chalcophile systematics Olivia Hogg (Cambridge)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) PP43F-1729 Assessing volcanism during the spice event using mercury and mercury stable isotopes Features Tamsin Mather (Oxford)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) DI43C-0051 Towards constraining mantle flow through global radial anisotropy tomography with uncertainty quantification Features Matt Fox (UCL)
e-Lightening 14:25 14:28 eLightning Theater V, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G43C-06 Ground deformation at Askja Volcano: a poroelastic finite element model to explain the observed uplift that commenced in the summer of 2021 Josefa Sepulveda (Leeds)
e-Lightening 14:28 14:31 eLightning Theater V, Hall D – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G43C-07 Understanding the drivers of volcano deformation through geodetic model verification and validation Features Camila Novoa Lizama (Leeds)
Talk 17:20 17:30 2014 – West (Level 2, West, MC) IN34B-09 The utility of commercial satellite data for studying global volcanic activity: Successes, challenges, and future prospects Features Juliet Biggs (Bristol)


Friday 15th December

Session Type Start time End Time Location Session Title Author/Speaker
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) A51H-2005 Evaluation of the ORAC algorithm for geostationary liquid water cloud retrievals over the Southern Ocean Features Don Grainger (Oxford)
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S51E-0257 Towards Automatic InSAR Derived Source Parameters for Global Seismicity John Condon (Leeds)
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) B51D-1794 Forest Disturbance and Vegetation Recovery Patterns Caused by Explosive Volcanic Eruptions Captured by Optical and Radar Remote Sensing Megan Udy (Leeds)
Poster 08:30 12:50 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) G51B-0359 Asymmetric Outliers in GNSS Time Series: A Study of Their Spatio-temporal Distribution From Different World Regions Features Adriano Gualandi (Cambridge)
Talk 09:45 09:55 2007 – West (Level 2, West, MC) GC51A-08 Understanding North Sea (Europe) seismicity for risk mitigation of large-scale CO2 injections Features Brian Baptie (BGS)
Talk 11:04 11:15 154 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T52B-05 Fluids and melt pathway in the Lesser Antilles subduction zone Lidong Bie (East Anglia)
Talk 15:05 15:15 303-304 – South (Level 3, South, MC) U53A-06 New Approach for Building Exposure Database Development and Quantitative Assessment of Uncertainty Features Annie Winson (BGS)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) MR53B-0049 Using AE based Machine Learning Approaches to Forecast Rupture during Rock Deformation Laboratory Experiments Features Philip Benson (Portsmouth)
Poster 14:10 18:30 Poster Hall A-C – South (Exhibition Level, South, MC) S53F-0334 Fluid-induced seismicity: insights from laboratory earthquakes and implications for traffic light systems in risk management Features Mike Kendall (Oxford)
Invited Talk 16:00 16:10 152 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) V54A-01 Data driven investigations of subduction zone magmas (Invited) Nicholas Barber (Cambridge)
Talk 16:30 16:40 154 – South (Upper Mezzanine, South, MC) T54B-04 Inversion of River Networks Reveals Control of Erodibility by Bedrock-Bedload Contrasts Features Matt Fox (UCL)


Edna Dualeh: 2024 Willy Aspinall Prize


VMSG has recently announced its 2024 award winners and we are delighted to announce that COMET staff researcher Edna Dualeh has been named as the recipient of the 2024 Willy Aspinall Prize for an outstanding paper on applied volcanology.

Edna’s work on St. Vincent was part of her PhD with COMET Scientist Susanna Ebmeier and COMET Director, Tim Wright both based at the University of Leeds.

You can read Edna’s winning paper here:

Huge congratulations to Edna from all your colleagues at COMET!

Girls into Geoscience Careers Day

A group from the University of Bristol’s volcanology group represented COMET at the recent Girls into Geoscience careers day at the University of Plymouth. The group, consisting of MSc Volcanology students Alex Daniels, Anne-Marie Molina, Hannah Ellis, and PhD Student Ben Ireland, delivered a workshop showcasing a range of volcanological phenomena.

Anne-Marie and Alex had the following to say about the experience:

“We were at Plymouth University representing COMET for an event called “Girls into Geoscience”, where we talked about the different areas of volcanology to try and encourage these girls to pursue a career in geoscience! We wanted to pique their interest by showcasing volcanic rocks, drone imagery, and had a simulation of a volcanic eruption with a Coke and Mentos experiment. 

 We loved seeing the girls get involved with the interactive activities which they may not have access to in a classroom and loved their questions for us. It was really rewarding to see the girls understand volcanic processes through our experiment and get a sense of the intricacies which take place prior to a volcanic eruption in different settings around the world. This was an amazing opportunity to speak to so many girls with different backgrounds that came together with an interest in geoscience. It felt great to be able to inspire some of them with our own stories and hopefully they’ll pursue a career in geoscience!

 We hope to be back representing COMET at this great event next year!”

‘Sensing Volcanoes’ at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

From July 4 – 9 this year, a team from the University of Oxford, University of East Anglia and the University of the West Indies, Seismic Research Centre and Montserrat Volcano Observatory ran a multi-sensory installation as one of nine showcase exhibits at the Royal Society’s summer exhibition. Over six days, thirty volunteers helped to run the installation, manage the enthusiastic crowds of children and adults, and showcase aspects of volcanic and geophysical research.

The exhibit was designed around the ‘Curating Crises’ project [] funded by AHRC and NERC, which is exploring historical unrest at Caribbean volcanoes using data sources from archives – including the National Archives, the Royal Society, the British Geological Survey and the Montserrat Public Library.

The tag line for the exhibit was ‘sense, detect, imagine’. The idea was to explore how people living near a volcano might sense unrest; and how the detection of unrest feeds into the imagining, or interpretation, of what is happening underground, and what might happen next. To create sensory elements of the installation we had objects including an early 1900’s gramophone trumpet, with the sounds of bubbling geysers; an ash-covered cord telephone (from the 1990’s) with recorded eye-witness accounts of activity on Montserrat, and some tactile pots carved from scoria, impregnated with a mysterious ‘volcano scent’ that had been created for the exhibition. The highlight of the exhibit was the imaginarium – a ‘light up’ floor, controlled by a raspberry Pi. We ran this in two modes – one to represent the seismicity and movement of magma beneath La Soufrière, St Vincent during the 2021 eruption; and the second to run an interactive game on uncertainty and unrest, where the floor transformed into a map view of an island, which then turns out be a volcano.

The exhibit was busy for the whole of the exhibition, with over 4000 visitors to the building over the final weekend alone. Those who dropped by included Janice Panton, the Government of Montserrat representative; Turner-prize winning artist Veronica Ryan, and Cecil Browne, a Vincentian author. The exhibit is portable (with a van!) and will have another outing at the Oxford Festival of Science and Ideas in October.

Thank you to all of our volunteers, funders, and to the artists and creatives – Output Arts, Ωmega ingredients and Lizzie Ostrom – who helped to turn a 2-page vision statement into a physical exhibit in a little over six months!

Written by Professor David Pyle, University of Oxford

Bridie Davies (UEA, now Manchester) checking the sound from the gramophone trumpet.
Stacey Edwards (UWI-SRC) and Jenni Barclay (UEA) checking the pendulum array and smelling stones.
The final stages of the uncertainty game. The volcano on the island has erupted, and places where people have chosen to live (represented by toys) have been affected by ash fallout (purple) or pyroclastic flows (orange).

ESA–EGU 2023 Excellence Award winner Dr Susanna Ebmeier








COMET scientist, Dr Susanna Ebmeier has been recognised at the European Space Agency (ESA)-European Geosciences Union (EGU) excellence awards.

The awards celebrate the innovative use of Earth observation data.

Dr Ebmeier, from the University of Leeds, won the individual award for her work using satellite images to further the scientific understanding of volcanic processes.

Satellite technology means researchers can take measurements that show how the Earth’s surface is moving in volcanic areas with a precision of a few millimetres.

That information means that Dr Ebmeier and her colleagues are able to see how molten rock is moving beneath the Earth’s surface, as well as learn about the growth and stability of volcanoes themselves.

The prize winners, from across Europe, have been celebrated at the EGU’s General Assembly which took place in Vienna on 25 April.

Congratulations to Susi from all your COMET colleagues!

Read more about the ESA-EGU awards.

How and why does COMET respond to earthquakes?

A personal view from COMET* director, Prof Tim Wright 

14 February 2023 

We have all been shocked and horrified by the pictures coming from Türkiye and Syria over the past week following the two large earthquakes that happened on 6 February. COMET aims to generate and freely distribute robust scientific satellite deformation data sets following all moderate-large earthquakes on land. These can assist the humanitarian and scientific response.  

Here I want to briefly explain COMET’s approach to responding to an event like this from my perspective not just as COMET director, but also as a scientist who has been involved in responding to many earthquakes using satellite deformation data and who has been working on active faulting in Türkiye for my entire career. 

Deformation data from satellites are now a fundamental data set for understanding what happened in an earthquake, complementing the information that is available from seismology and from field studies. Deformation data shows, very precisely, which faults moved in an earthquake and by how much. Earthquakes are not point sources – they involve slip on faults. As earthquakes get larger, they involve larger/longer faults with increasing amounts of slip. Understanding how much and where slip occurred on a fault helps us understand the amount of shaking that is likely to have been experienced in different locations – distance to the fault is a primary control on the intensity of shaking. 

In COMET, we have been developing a service to automatically produce ground movement data sets from radar satellites following all earthquakes bigger than Magnitude 5.5 that are likely to impact the land surface, and are now a trusted source for these data sets. This is possible because the Sentinel-1 satellites, part of the European Commission’s Copernicus programme, have a systematic acquisition strategy over tectonic and volcanic areas, something that COMET worked with the European Space Agency to help define. We produce results from satellite data as fast as possible following the satellite acquisition, make them available to the public via a dedicated portal, and typically let people know about them using the @NERC_COMET and @COMET_database accounts on twitter.  

In the case of the Türkiye earthquakes, the data sets that we produced in COMET, which was also analysed by other international groups, show that the fault that ruptured in the initial Magnitude 7.8 earthquake was a 300 km long section of the East Anatolian Fault, and the fault that ruptured in the second large earthquake, a magnitude 7.5, was over 100 km long and occurred along a different branch of the same fault system. In UK terms, the length of the first fault is about the same as the distance from Bristol to Hull; and is close to the distance from London to Paris. This great extent is one of the reasons why the devastation has been so widespread and horrendous. Both earthquakes occurred on mapped faults and in areas where national maps of seismic hazard required the strictest building codes. 

We believe it is important to analyse satellite data as quickly as possible and to be open and transparent with the results, sharing them with the wider community and allowing people to use them in whatever way they wish. For most earthquakes, we now have data within a few days of the event, and we post results within a few hours of the satellite data acquisition, whether there is any media interest in an event or not. We would like to be able to do this within a few hours of every event, and with new satellite systems from the Europe, the US/India, Japan, Canada, China, and others coming on stream, there is good prospect of being able to provide results within a day of most events in the second half of this decade. 

However, even if the results are not yet always available within the 72-hour window required for initial search and rescue efforts, the analysis of satellite deformation data can still be useful. Various groups around the world are using these types of data (provided by COMET or processed by other groups) to build models of the event – these can in turn be used to help understand how an earthquake influences the activity on nearby faults. More directly, the data, and information derived from it such as the location of individual fault ruptures, can help responders understand the potential impact on key infrastructure such as bridges and roads, which are vital for the relief effort but might have been impacted by the surface rupture, or other slope failures resulting from the earthquake. The data also help guide field geologists to sites in the field where they can study the earthquake fault rupture up close – such features can degrade very quickly in poor weather conditions; documenting them is important for understanding what palaeoseismologists see when they are investigating records of ancient earthquake ruptures and for understanding the detail of what happened in the causative earthquake. In turn, detailed surface rupture mapping can help to add constraints to models of the earthquake based on geodetic data. In the longer-term, forensically understanding every earthquake helps us prepare for future events in different regions.  

As well as providing data sets, COMET scientists, including myself, often discuss the meaning of these data sets with colleagues in open fora like twitter, and respond to queries from colleagues and the media. Leading on from comments by American seismologist and science communicator Dr Lucy Jones, my view also is that this information sharing is vital so that scientists involved directly in the response, or those involved in communication to the public, have access to the latest data and can understand what happened during an event. Often this understanding evolves quite quickly during the hours and days that follow the earthquake. Having reliable information communicated directly in platforms like twitter, and indirectly via the media, is vital for combatting misinformation and conspiracy theories that can unfortunately proliferate in the absence of reliable scientific comment. Twitter has become a key platform for many of those discussions. 

Behind the scenes, we also are passing on information to local and international partners directly, so that they have the data they need to respond, and we are responding to queries to help people use the data. We are also providing data and information to help assist with the UK government’s emergency response via our partners in the British Geological Survey. 

We are of course acutely conscious that our scientific responses to events like the recent earthquakes are happening in the context of humanitarian tragedies. If you are able, I encourage you to give generously to organisations such as the Disasters Emergency Committee in the UK, who are helping survivors in urgent need of aid and assistance. 

 *COMET is the UK Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics, a partnership between scientists in UK Universities and the British Geological Survey tasked with delivering National Capability science on behalf of the Natural Environment Research Council. Our focus is on using Earth Observation data alongside other data sets to help understand earthquake and volcanic processes and hazards. 

Thanks to Wendy Bohon, Ruth Lawford-Rolfe, and Laura Gregory for providing input on early drafts of this text.