Volcanology

For 40 years, the UAF Geophysical Institute has been recognized as a leader in volcanology research in Alaska and beyond. Alaska is home to 52 active volcanoes, creating an unparalleled natural laboratory for research in volcanic processes and hazards. The Volcanology group brings together different research disciplines to better understand active volcanic processes, develop tools for monitoring, and train the next generation of researchers through graduate and undergraduate research and mentoring.

Our expertise includes seismology, infrasound, geodesy, petrology, geology, satellite remote sensing, gas geochemistry and aerosols. Volcanology facilities at the GI and UAF comprise geophysical networks, satellite receiving facilities, experimental petrology and the Advanced Instrumentation Lab in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The GI is a partner agency in the Alaska Volcano Observatory. In cooperation with the USGS and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, we track volcanic activity in Alaska, execute eruption response efforts and undertake long-term research projects to mitigate the impact of volcanic eruptions. We apply this real-world experience to research projects around the globe, and train the next generation of volcanologists through mentoring and research programs for undergraduate and graduate students.

Geodesy

Ash from Okmok covers GPS

Ash from Okmok's 2008 eruption covers the GPS antenna, as well as the hut and solar panels that make up station OKCE, located within Okmok's caldera.

Pressure changes or mass movements within restless volcanoes produce surface deformation that we can measure using geodetic techniques like GPS and InSAR. Volcanoes in Alaska display a wide variety of deformation signatures, some very subtle and others very large and obvious. We analyze and model GPS and InSAR data to better understand the sources of volcanic deformation and how they relate to other signs of volcanic unrest and eruption.

Group Contact: Jeff Freymueller

 

Geology

Backscattered (BSE) electron images of ash from the March 2016 eruption of Pavlof Volcano, Alaska by Pavel Izbekov. The photo on the left shows BSE image and corresponding mineral composition data from plagioclase in the ash produced by the eruption. The photo on the right shows vesicular (bubbly) texture of fine-grain size (~100 microns), glassy ash produced in the explosive eruption. The ash cloud from this eruption caused disruptions in air traffic and ash fall impacted communities downwind of the volcano.

UAF Volcanology Graduate students Nathan Graham and Rebecca deGraffenried collecting peremability data in the field at Obsidian Dome in eastern California, August 2016.

Volcanic eruptions produce rocks and minerals that record pressure, temperature, and timescale information from crustal magma plumbing systems. Geological studies of recent eruptions in Alaska and elsewhere in the world can be used to assess eruption hazards, eruption histories through stratigraphy and tephra studies, and to collect samples for lab analyses and/or experiments. Petrology, geochemistry, and experimental petrology studies of recent eruptions in Alaska provide models of magma storage and transport in the crust that can be used to inform the geophysical monitoring data, improve our understanding of individual volcanic systems, and improve our ability to forecast possible eruptive outcomes from volcanic unrest. We employ studies of natural rock sample petrology and geochemistry using state of the art instrumentation in the UAF Advanced Instrumentation Lab, combined with experimental petrology methods in the UAF Experimental Petrology lab, to improve our understanding of the inner workings of active and potentially hazardous volcanoes in Alaska and elsewhere around the world. 

Group contacts: Jessica Larsen and Pavel Izbekov

Seismology

 

Seismic records prior to the eruption of Kasatochi volcano in 2008. Data such as these, when combined with observations from other disciplines, are a primary tool for assessing eruption potential. 

Nearly all volcanic eruptions are preceded and accompanied by earthquakes and/or vigorous ground shaking. Volcanoes produce many other types of “seismicity” as well, sourced by glaciers, erosion, and regional tectonics. The broad array of volcanoes in Alaska provides examples of nearly every type of seismic activity. Volcano seismology has been a staple of research at the Geophysical Institute since the 1970s and leverage many assets including the GI seismology research group, high performance computing facilities, and the Alaska Earthquake Center.

Group contact: Mike West and David Fee

Volcanic Gases

GI researcher Taryn Lopez measures sulfur dioxide emissions from Cleveland volcano, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Cindy Werner.

Volcanic gas researchers use measurements of volcanic gas composition and flux to provide insights into subvolcanic conditions and volatile cycling. Changes in volcanic gas composition and flux can indicate magma ascent or a change in conduit permeability, which are important eruption precursors. UAF researchers use direct fumarole sampling, in situ plume measurements and ground and satellite-based remote sensing to characterize background degassing, elucidate volcanic processes and identify changes in volcanic systems throughout the Aleutian Arc and around the world.

Group contact: Taryn Lopez

Volcanology Remote Sensing

Ash

The remote sensing branch of the volcanology group analyzes satellite data from Kamchatka all the way to Yellowstone.

Infrared satellite data from polar orbiting and geostationary spaceborne sensors are analyzed, viewed, and evaluated to locate thermal anomalies, which may indicate possible volcanic activity, or new ash plumes and clouds. Over time, these data can be used to observe an increase in the size of a lava dome, new strombolian activity, a growing lava flow, or the gradual increase in activity of a specific volcano across the region.

The faculty, staff and students work together to locate and track volcanic ash plumes and clouds, which may threaten the 20,000 airline passengers and millions of pounds of cargo that fly over the North Pacific region every day. These analyses lead to and are a part of student thesis research and new exciting projects that have included tasking additional higher spatial resolution data and the calibration and validation of volcanic ash cloud modeling.

Group Contact: Peter Webley

Why Study Volcanoes at UAF?

Here are just a few good reasons (and there are more!):

  1. You can work with ten faculty members who are fully committed to all aspects of volcanology in the North Pacific, and several more who actively collaborate and contribute to ongoing volcanologic studies.
  2. Our volcanology graduate students are very active researching aspects of volcanic phenomena in the fields of igneous petrology, geochemistry, geodesy, seismology, remote sensing, physical volcanology and experimental petrology.
  3. We work in state-of-the-art laboratories that span the spectrum of volcanological disciplines.
  4. Fieldwork and data collection are emphaszied for volcanology graduate students. Our field projects typically take place in amazing natural laboratories!
  5. Your participation with the Alaska Volcano Observatory and other international research institutions provides students with direct experience with both science-driven and hazards-driven studies directly in the public interest worldwide.
  6. There is an incredible abundance of active/recently active volcanic phenomena available in the state for master's, doctoral, and post-doctoral research. Research projects also commonly occur at international sites..

GI Volcanology graduate students are typically students within the Geosciences Department of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. Current graduate students and project are listed at: http://www.uaf.edu/geology/current-students/graduate-student-directory/. For more information on applying to UAF please see http://www.uaf.edu/geology/prospective-students/. Feel free to contact individual GI researchers for questions on their research and specific opportunities.

Fieldwork gallery

Bolivan Fieldwork 

Altiplano in Southern Bolivia

Graduate student Brando Christensen with advisor Steve McNutt installing a station near Uturunku near another volcano.(That section of the altiplano is covered with them...) photo courtesy of: Ernesto Godoy Valdovinos

 

Fisher Caldera
Graduate student Pete Stelling carefully collects samples for one of his research studies at Akutan Volcano

 

 

Rafting in a mud volcano  

Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Graduate Student Sarah Henton rafting out into the center of the Upper Klawasi mud volcano to collect samples in a rather unconventional, yet undeniably cool manner. These mud volcanoes are located in Wrangell National Park, Alaska. photo courtesy of: unknown 

 

Mt Redoubt before eruptionFieldwork at redoubt: The day before it erupted!  

Redoubt Volcano, Cook Inlet

Graduate Student Helena Buurman working on a temporary seismic station, RD02 (at the former site of station RDW) on the flank of Redoubt Volcano, the day before it erupted in 2009

photo courtesy of: Cyrus Read

 

A beautiful day at Pavlof  

Pavlof Volcano, Alaska Peninsula

All the ingredients necessary for a successful day in the field: Seismologist (Graduate Student Helena Buurman), Helicopter, Seismic station, Volcano, and beautiful weather.  

 

The group from PIRE  

Bezimiani volcano, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia

A group shot people in Kamchatka, working on the PIRE project, including graduate students Ronni Grapenthin, Helena Buurman Taryn Lopez, and Faculty member Pavel Izbekov.
photo courtesy of: Sergey Ushakov

News Releases

Infrasound

GI researcher David Fee and graduate student Alex Iezzi deploy an infrasound sensor on the active Yasur Volcano, Vanuatu.

When a volcano erupts it releases seismic energy into the ground and acoustic energy (sound) into the air. GI researchers use low frequency sound, termed infrasound, to study and monitor volcanic eruptions in Alaska and around the world. Infrasound provides valuable information on eruption dynamics and can be used to detect, locate, characterize, and quantify eruptive activity. GI researchers also use infrasound to determine the amount of ash and gas released during an eruption by combining output from numerical models with other measurements, such as gas and seismicity. 

Group contact: David Fee