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!”
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 [https://curatingcrises.omeka.net] 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!
On 6 February, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the East Anatolian Fault affecting large areas of Southern Türkiye and Northern Syria. This was followed by a 7.5-magnitude event approximately 9 hours later, around 60 miles to the north. To date more than 37,000 people are confirmed to have died, large numbers of people are affected across the region and the damage to buildings and infrastructure is significant.
Images from ESA’s Sentinel-1A satellite captured on 9/10 February clearly showed the physical effects of the earthquake on the ground, including deformation of up to 6 metres along a 300km section of the fault, and the second event causing a second ~125km rupture. Many population centres sit close to these zones, explaining the significant human impact of the event.
By combining Sentinel-1A imagery from before and after the earthquake, COMET scientists have been able to measure surface deformation that is clearly visible in InSAR and pixel offset tracking data sets shown below:
In addition to the results from the satellite radar data, we have also used the pre- and post-event optical images from Sentinel-2 to estimate ground movement in the earthquakes also using pixel tracking:
The processing outputs from Sentinel-1A data are available for download at our LiCSAR system event page. The results from Sentinel-2 are available here.
The images above contain modified Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data analysed by the Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET). Data processing uses JASMIN, the UK’s collaborative data analysis environment (http://jasmin.ac.uk).
For more information on why and how COMET responds to earthquake events read this article by our Director – Professor Tim Wright.
Around 20 scientists gathered at the University of Leeds recently to share their knowledge and their views on how magmatic activity can be understood and reproduced by models of volcanic processes.
Fourteen COMET members, including scientists, research staff and students, were joined by experts in various fields of volcanology from other world-leading institutions such as the United States Geological Survey, the University of Geneva and the University of Liverpool.
At the workshop we discussed the numerous challenges we face when we try to experimentally replicate natural processes such as those occurring at volcanoes. The most important limitation is that we can exclusively witness and measure what happens at the surface of the volcanoes, and only indirectly infer what goes on beneath them.
There are many different techniques commonly used to take the pulse of the magmatic activity: we measure how the volcanic edifices deform, we record seismic waves coming from and travelling through the magmatic systems, we collect and analyse lava and ash samples during eruptions, we measure the concentration of gases emitted by volcanic vents etc.
The rapid expansion and improvement of satellite Earth Observation (EO) techniques (such as radar interferometry to measure deformation, infrared atmospheric sounding to measure gas emissions etc.) offers further opportunities to study magmatic processes at a global scale.
Although each technique can shed light on one or more volcanic processes, the highest chance of truly understanding what controls the magmatic activity happens when all the measurements and information are analysed together.
The use of a multi-disciplinary approach was the key element of the COMET workshop and all participants agreed that future research in volcanology must move in this direction. Conceptual and numerical models of how magma is stored beneath the surface must be able to reconcile the observed deformation, the amount of gasses released in the atmosphere and the physical/chemical properties of the erupted products. Models of how magma reaches the surface during eruptions need to explain the seismic signature of magma ascent, be compatible with the mechanical properties of volcanic rocks, and consider magma as a multi-phase fluid containing gas, liquid and crystals.
During our workshop, we identified several potential research projects that will be developed in the coming months and that will imply the use of information from different disciplines of volcanology. For example, we aim to globally classify active volcanoes on the basis of their behaviours in terms of deformation and gas emissions. Much effort will also be put in understanding the characteristics of magma reservoirs, moving from conceptual models of simple liquid-filled cavities to complex, multi-phase, dynamic systems.
Finally, specific volcanoes where COMET scientists already have access to long records of geophysical, geochemical and petrological data (for example Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat or Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii) will be used as natural laboratories. At these locations, we will test models that try to reproduce processes ranging from specific eruptive behaviours to long-term magma supply to the volcanoes.
For further information, contact Dr Marco Bagnardi firstname.lastname@example.org.
Active faults and the devastating earthquakes they can trigger do not respect political borders. Whilst the recent earthquakes in Nepal did most damage to the mountain kingdom itself, hundreds of people were also killed or injured in neighbouring China, India and Bangladesh.
The region’s history tells a similar story – the three countries’ earthquake records over the last 500 years are intertwined by shared proximity to the Himalayan mountain belt and its underlying megathrust fault.
Ways of improving resilience to earthquake hazard also need to transcend political boundaries, bringing together scientists and policymakers from the affected countries to share knowledge, experience and ideas.
This principle has led to the Earthquakes without Frontiers (EwF) partnership – a diverse group of natural and social scientists from around the UK. Led by James Jackson of both COMET and the University of Cambridge, EwF is a 5-year initiative funded by NERC and ESRC (the Natural Environment and Economic and Social Research Councils) under the Improving Resilience to Natural Hazards programme.
As well as COMET, the partnership includes researchers from Cambridge, Durham, Hull, Leeds, Northumbria and Oxford Universities, the British Geological Survey, the Overseas Development Institute and Durham’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience.
The project focuses on three broad regions – China, the Himalayan mountain front (Nepal and Northern India) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) – with the key objective of furthering knowledge on earthquakes and landslides in the continental interiors.
Much of this involves using remotely sensed data which complements the project’s cross-border approach. EwF scientists use digital topography and multispectral and optical imagery to research landslide hazard and map active faults, alongside satellite radar to measure the warping of the Earth’s crust and steady interseismic motions as faults build up stress before the next seismic event.
All of this contributes to a wider programme of social and natural scientific research with scientists in the partner countries, as well as being used to run workshops and training events for young international scientists.
Crucially, this knowledge exchange extends to countries dealing with similar hazards – the same types of fault that threaten vast regions in China also cause earthquakes in Italy, and lessons learnt about Iranian faults can inform work on hazard in Kazakhstan and vice versa. As such, EwF brings together scientists from many countries to share knowledge and experience across an even wider network, culminating in the annual EwF partnership meetings, the most recent of which was held in Kathmandu in April 2015.
When a huge Mw7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on the 25th April, it came as a double blow to all within EwF. Nepal is not only one of our focus areas, but many of the UK team also had been in Kathmandu just one week before the earthquake, working and living alongside Nepali colleagues and friends.
The International Charter for Space and Major Disasters was invoked just 3 hours after the earthquake, and over the following few days, space agencies hurriedly tasked their satellites to acquire new imagery over Nepal. We all felt strongly that we should put our combined experience to good use in the immediate aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, and dashed to obtain satellite imagery of the area. In the weeks since we have been working to analyse this imagery in order to aid both disaster relief efforts and hazard re-evaluation.
EwF researchers, along with colleagues at the University of Leeds, used data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A satellite to measure how the ground was permanently warped by the earthquake. This was greatly assisted by COMET’s new automated processing facility, designed to cope with the vast amount of data from the Sentinel-1 satellites, which helped to produce some of the first radar interferograms of the Nepal earthquake. These mapped how the ground was warped along a 170 km stretch of the fault, moving by up to ~1.4 m near Kathmandu.
We are now modelling the data to understand how the fault slipped at depth, establish the relationship with the large Mw 7.3 aftershock on the 12th May, and gauge how these events may have stressed the surrounding regions, making them more likely to fail in future.
At the same time, EwF scientists at Durham University and the British Geological Survey have been using high-resolution optical and multispectral imagery to map landslides in the region. We have identified around 3,600 landslides that were either triggered or reactivated by the earthquake, using the maps to show where rivers are likely to be dammed and roads blocked. This has also highlighted the need to plan for the monsoon season which may reactivate or trigger even more deadly landslides.
Over the coming months, EwF researchers will continue to work on these topics as well as the many more questions raised by the Nepal earthquake. We hope that the lessons learned from this terrible event will bring us one step closer to improving resilience to future earthquakes, not just for Nepal and the countries across its borders, but for all earthquake-prone countries.
Topography is one of the most important geophysical observations that can be made at the Earth’s surface. Recent advances in topographic measurements have significantly improved the spatial resolutions available to earth scientists. Combining new high-resolution topography with high-resolution imagery allows Earth’s surface to be explored in a virtual environment, and comparison of pre- and post-event datasets allows the retrieval of 3D earthquake deformation fields.
The meeting aims to expose to a wider audience the new data sets and methods of analysis for measuring continental topography and surface displacements, and provide a forum for discussion of new tectonic applications of high-resolution topography and imagery.