What kind of school training do you need to become a volcanologist?

There are many paths to becoming a volcanologist. Most include a college or graduate school education in a scientific or technical field, but the range of specialties is very large. Training in geology, geophysics, geochemistry, biology, biochemistry, mathematics, statistics, engineering, atmospheric science, remote sensing, and related fields can be applied to the study of volcanoes and the interactions between volcanoes and the environment. The key ingredients are a strong fascination and boundless curiosity about volcanoes and how they work. From there, the possibilities are almost endless! 

Learn more: Information About Volcanologists

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Where can I find information on employment with the USGS?

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) is a Federal science agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help...

Why is it important to monitor volcanoes?

The United States and its territories contain 169 geologically active volcanoes, of which 54 volcanoes are a high threat or very high threat to public safety. Many of these volcanoes have erupted in the recent past and will erupt again in the foreseeable future. As populations increase, areas near volcanoes are being developed and aviation routes...

Lava sampling: Why do we do it?

Hot lava samples provide important information about what's going on in a volcano's magma chambers. We know from laboratory experiments that the more magnesium there is in magma, the hotter it is. Chemical analysis, therefore, provides the means not only to determine the crystallization history of lava but also to establish the temperature at...

Is it dangerous to work on volcanoes? What precautions do scientists take?

Volcanoes are inherently beautiful places where forces of nature combine to produce awesome events and spectacular landscapes. For volcanologists, they're FUN to work on! Safety is, however, always the primary concern because volcanoes can be dangerous places. USGS scientists try hard to understand the risk inherent in any situation, then train...

How are volcanic gases measured?

Instruments to measure sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide can be mounted in aircraft to determine the quantity of gas being emitted on a daily basis. Such instruments can also be used in a ground-based mode. An instrument that detects carbon dioxide can be installed on a volcano and configured to send data continuously via radio to an observatory...

How can we tell when a volcano will erupt?

Most volcanoes provide warnings before an eruption. Magmatic eruptions involve the rise of magma toward the surface, which normally generates detectable earthquakes. It can also deform the ground surface and cause anomalous heat flow or changes in the temperature and chemistry of the groundwater and spring waters. Steam-blast eruptions, however,...

I am not a citizen of the United States. Can I apply for jobs in the USGS?

As a United States federal agency, the USGS is not permitted to hire non-U.S. citizens except in very rare circumstances. USGS positions are advertised at USAJOBS .
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Date published: May 18, 2017

Ever Vigilant: USGS Marks the 37th Anniversary of Mount St. Helen's Eruption and the 35th Anniversary of the Cascades Volcano Observatory

Today, in 1980, Mount St. Helens unleashed the most devastating eruption in U.S. history. Two years later, USGS founded the Cascades Volcano Observatory to monitor Mount St. Helens and all the Cascades Volcanoes.

Date published: August 2, 2016

30 Years Saving Lives from Volcanoes

There are approximately 1,550 potentially active volcanoes around the world. VDAP works to reduce loss of life and property, limit economic impact and prevent volcanic crises from becoming disasters.

Date published: April 1, 2013

25 Years Monitoring Alaska Volcanoes

Twenty-five years of monitoring and studying Alaska's volcanoes by the Alaska Volcano Observatory have improved global understanding of how volcanoes work and how to live safely with volcanic eruptions. Timely warnings from AVO throughout its 25-year history have helped reduce the impact of erupting volcanoes, protecting lives, property, and economic well-being.

Attribution: Region 11: Alaska
Date published: January 17, 2012

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Marks a Century of Research and Monitoring

HAWAI`I ISLAND, Hawaii — In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory celebrates its 100th anniversary of studying the volcanoes’ workings and disseminating cutting-edge volcano science throughout the world. Many public events are planned to celebrate the centennial of HVO, the first volcano observatory in the United States.

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Training in Volcanic Gas Monitoring
December 8, 2016

Training in Volcanic Gas Monitoring

VDAP staff and colleagues at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington, training Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geologic Hazard Mitigation colleagues to use instrumentation for volcanic gas monitoring. Photograph credit: John Pallister, USGS/VDAP

man standing in room full of equipment, working on box on central work table
October 27, 2016

Cascades Volcano Observatory Electronics Lab

At the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory Electronics Lab, technicians build, test, and prepare scientific instruments to be deployed for monitoring volcanoes worldwide.

scientist with camera and spectrometer at the edge of smoking volcanic crater.
August 16, 2016

USGS HVO geochemist measuring gases released from Kīlauea Volcano

USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geochemist measuring gases released from Kïlauea with a Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometer, an instrument that detects gas compositions on the basis of absorbed infrared light. The data obtained from FTIR measurements have been useful in identifying the many components of volcanic-gas emissions, which provide information on the

scientist shown taking a lava temp using a heat shield
July 8, 2016

Taking Lava Temps

In this photo, a USGS researcher is taking a temperature measurement on a sluggish channel eddy on Kīlauea Volcano in 1984. The research in Hawaiʻi is just one of many projects overseen by the USGS Volcano Hazards Program, which monitors active and potentially active volcanoes, assesses their hazards, responds to volcanic crises, and

Attribution: Natural Hazards
A USGS geologist collects a molten lava sample during a December 2015 lava flow from Puʻu ʻŌʻō.
April 27, 2016

A USGS geologist collects a molten lava sample during a December 2015 lava flow from Puʻu ʻŌʻō.

A USGS geologist collects a molten lava sample during a December 2015 lava flow from Puʻu ʻŌʻō. As the lava cools on the surface, its viscosity increases and the flow slows down. Credit: USGS.

Image: Collecting Gas Sample at a Fumarole
March 15, 2016

Collecting Gas Sample at a Fumarole

USGS geologist Deborah Bergfeld collects a gas sample from a superheated (hotter than the boiling point) fumarole in Little Hot Springs Valley at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Image: Installing Solar Panels on Alaskan Volcano Monitoring Equipment
September 14, 2015

Installing Solar Panels on Alaskan Volcano Monitoring Equipment

USGS\AVO seismologist John Lyons replacing a broken solar panel at Tanaga Volcano, Alaska. Tanaga is very remote volcano in the Western Aleutian Islands. Tanaga last erupted in 1914.

USGS geologist standing near an active lava flow with smoke coming from the lava
October 26, 2014

Hawaiʻi Hot Lava

After slowly moving downslope from Kīlauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone since June 27, 2014, this active lava flow in Hawaiʻi reached the town of Pāhoa just before Halloween, destroying roads, a cemetery, and private property in this community. Amazingly, the Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent began erupting in 1983 and has continued erupting essentially nonstop for more than 31

Image: Sampling fumarole
July 26, 2012

Sampling fumarole

USGS scientist Deborah Bergfeld collects a gas sample from a fumarole on the flank of Akutan Volcano, Akutan Island, Alaska.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Scientists Check for Volcanic Activity
February 7, 2012

Scientists Check for Volcanic Activity

Four scientists are busy reviewing seismic data, checking maps, and uploading activity updates in the USGS Volcano Hazards Program's Volcano Observatory operations room from the Menlo Park, California USGS campus.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Volcanic Gas Sampling
July 6, 2011

Volcanic Gas Sampling

Christoph Kern acquires ultraviolet images of volcanic gas over the dome and crater of Mount St. Helens. Although practically invisible to the human eye, sulfur dioxide absorbs ultraviolet light and appears dark in images captured by the equipment. Sulfur dioxide is typically emitted from magma as it approaches the surface, so surveys are conducted on a regular basis at

View looking up to craggy rock cliff face covered in bright orange lichens, with a person perched on the face of the outcrop.
December 31, 2010

Geologist examining a lava flow up close.

USGS geologist Seth Burgess examining a Siberian Traps lava flow up close. The vertical cracks formed during cooling of the lava flow, dividing the original basaltic lava into hexagonally shaped columns of rock. The many horizontal cracks across the columns are likely also related to cooling of the flow. The orange patches on the rocks are lichens.