Why I want to monitor volcanoes

This post provides a brief insight into why I am interested in pursuing the study of volcanoes, or volcanology, as a career path.

If someone were to ask me, why do you want to study volcanoes?, I could give you a short answer or a long one. The short answer would make you laugh (hopefully!) and perhaps nod in agreement, but I think the longer answer is better. Such a career choice requires a longer examination of the deeper sources behind your passion.

For the short answer:

Volcanoes are badass!

They’re light and heat, awe and fire; a reminder of the days when we were ruled by the pagan gods. They provide a natural spectacle far more amazing than any show on TV, including the auditions of the X Factor. Furthermore, I love that people’s eyes light up when I tell them about volcanoes, because I have something that they can immediately relate to. We have all of us felt at some point in our lives awe at the natural world around us, at some phenomenon that we have witnessed, a moment that we know will never come again.

Volcanoes are both hot and cool. Superficially, I want to visit them so that I can toast a marshmallow on lava. The fact that the world’s most active volcanoes are found in exotic and tantalising foreign countries doesn’t hurt, either!

For the long answer:

In all seriousness, however, I chose volcanoes for deeper reasons. This I think is proved by my assertion that I would study an active volcano if it were located in Swindon. If you look beyond the awesome pictures of viscous and livid lavas, you’ll find a cornucopia of reasons as to why volcanology is a fascinating and deeply engaging science. If you’ll allow me to walk you through the reasons as to why I’m so interested, I think that at the end you will wish you studied volcanology too.

I came to study Earth Sciences at University College London in the fall of 2014. I think the degree appealed to me so much because I was so indecisive about my future. I knew that I enjoyed science, and I knew that I like to travel; that seemed to be the extent of my understanding. Geology provided an outlet for me to explore the world through fieldwork, and develop my interests in varied scientific disciplines ranging from geophysics to palaeontology.

I believe that the study of volcanology takes this approach one step further. Of course it has a narrower focus than Earth Sciences in general; but there are so many areas within it that it seems mean to call it a specialisation. If you are working with the active earth, where can’t your skills be put to use? Measuring gas flux from the crater? – a sound understanding of chemistry will work wonders. Monitoring car breaks down? – a mind geared towards mechanical engineering will help. Need to talk to the locals about potential hazards? – languages are invaluable.

Following on from that last point, another thing which attracted me to volcanology is the active and engaged position that you can take with the public. How often in your day-to-day life do you think about the water you drink or the gas in your car being due, in part, to the efforts of geologists? But with volcanic risk, the benefits of scientific communication are far more immediately observed. Take the disasters of Nevado del Ruiz (1985) and LÁquila (2009) as examples: when the Earth trembles, people look to the scientists. I want to be able to inform the understanding of many people when they wonder why a volcano is dangerous. It’s that lighting up in people’s eyes that I want to achieve, as I know that mine must have done when I first learned about volcanic processes a couple of years ago. I have been given so much from my degree; now I believe it is time to give things back.

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