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20-16. Exploring user needs and community engagement for next-generational volcano products, maps, and tools


Closing Date: January 6, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.



The USGS Volcano Hazard Program’s (VHP) Next Generation Volcano Hazard Assessment (NGVHA) project encompasses numerous parallel research efforts focused on establishing a model for producing consistent and comprehensive volcanic hazards assessments for high-priority U.S. volcanoes. In order to update outdated assessments with the latest research and techniques, the NGVHA project needs usability and user needs investigations that will support production of hazard- and risk-reduction products efforts with interagency partners, Sovereign Tribal Nations, and communities potentially affected by eruptions. While VHP experts often have longstanding relationships with and a wealth of knowledge about communities in volcanic areas, most are physical scientists, and few have had formal training in social science or allied fields. Additionally, while scientists at individual Volcano Observatories have successfully conducted targeted usability studies for certain volcanic areas, the VHP lacks social science capacity (commensurate to expertise in physical sciences) to move beyond “one-off” efforts, identify and leverage successes, and build programmatic consistency. This dearth makes it difficult to conduct research and evaluations aimed at making VHP’s products, communication, and other services more accessible, just, inclusive, equitable, useful, and usable for the diverse communities and groups that we serve.

VHP is responsible for carrying out the mandates of the National Volcano Early Warning System (NVEWS), a Congressionally authorized (but not yet appropriated) initiative. The primary directive of NVEWS is to expand and update VHP’s monitoring infrastructure and eruption forecasting and warning capabilities to appropriately cover the spectrum of volcanic threats. “Maintain[ing] and improv[ing] methods of product generation, standardization and distribution” is a fundamental component of the NVEWS mandate. Research toward developing evidence-based communication strategies, user needs assessments, and product evaluations is a critical step toward fulfilling this obligation. These efforts will accomplish multiple VHP mission goals and contribute to achieving the science goals set by the Natural Hazard Mission Area (NHMA) guidance and the USGS Science for a Risky World report (CC-1444) or “Risk Plan.”

The prospective Mendenhall fellow will develop a 2-year research proposal in their area of interest and expertise that advances USGS priorities in the VHP, NHMA, and Risk Plan. The goal of this Mendenhall opportunity is to recruit a talented and creative social scientist whose “home base” will be the VHP but will seek collaborations with other USGS programs/centers. While volcanic hazards and their impacts are the topics of study for this project – often the domain of quantitative research – this opportunity is designed for candidates possessing strong qualitative research skills and demonstrated expertise in social science or related fields. Successful candidates will be passionate about addressing well known limitations of quantitatively-skewed hazards and risk research (e.g., characterization of social vulnerability based solely on aggregate demographic data) with the goal of balancing the strengths of quantitative and qualitative research to holistically elucidate the full spectrum of vulnerability to, and risk from, volcanic and other natural hazards.

We invite creative proposals that will enhance USGS’s ability to meet its obligations to “[E]nhance public safety and minimize social and economic disruption from eruptions…” for all. Therefore, in addition to addressing topical research themes outlined below, proposals must clearly articulate a plan for meaningful, sincere, and equitable service to groups that have been made vulnerable through practices such as historically discriminatory policies and geographic isolation, for example Sovereign Tribal Nations, small and remote population centers, lower income urban area residents, and BIPOC communities.

Opportunities may include (but are not limited to) themes from the following paths:

  • Aspects of time and temporality: Cumulative impacts of multiple hazards and/or cascading hazards (e.g., forest fires causing an eruption, life-line service disruptions); lingering or “slow” hazards (e.g., post lahar flooding, long-term gas emissions and other volcano hazards with short- and long-term public health implications); and/or simultaneous disasters (i.e., a pandemic and an eruption), extended period of ebbing and increasing volcanic unrest.
  • Preparing for uncertainty: Unexpected, small and/or dispersed eruptive hazards (i.e., volcanic fields, monogenetic eruptions, distributed volcanism in the American Southwest or Oregon).
  • Management of concurrent disasters (i.e., the Dec 2020 Kilauea eruption response during a pandemic). The COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges for science responders, having to concurrently respond and reduce risk of infections as well as conduct field studies, communicate with communities about hazards, and organize with key stakeholder organizations to respond to events. These many challenges require further investigation for lessons to improve future responses during concurrent disasters, explored in social science research agendas supported by the CONVERGE network
  • Risk reduction and resiliency strategies aligned with USGS, NHMA and with DOI priorities to reduce risk from multiple natural disasters exacerbated by climate change (e.g., “America the Beautiful” Initiative’s plans for land conservation in high-risk areas)
  • Developing relationships with communities in areas which have no current volcano hazard assessments and are proximal to Tribal and Alaska Native lands (Clear Lake Volcanic Field, CA; Makushin Volcano, AK; Mount Shasta, CA)
  • Comparison of the COVID-19 pandemic response strategies, failures, successes to planning for long-term volcanic unrest
  • User needs, User-Center Design, and usability research toward establishing best practices and methods for sustained user engagement and development and evaluation of hazard assessments and derivative products, tools, services
  • Analyze and explore communication strategies and techniques for volcanic unrest and eruption, specifically where people have limited experience with these geological hazards.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


Ludwig, K.A., Ramsey, D.W., Wood, N.J., Pennaz, A.B., Godt, J.W., Plant, N.G., Luco, N., Koenig, T.A., Hudnut, K.W., Davis, D.K., and Bright, P.R., 2018, Science for a risky world—A U.S. Geological Survey plan for risk research and applications: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1444, 57 p.,

Proposed Duty Station: Vancouver, Washington; Anchorage, Alaska; Mountain View, California; Hilo, Hawaii

Areas of PhD: Social science, hazard science, or related fields (candidates with a Ph.D. in other disciplines but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for one of the following: Research Social Scientist or Research Sociologist.

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact:  Veronica Guerrero-Nunez, 916-278-9405,