Cascades Volcano Observatory

Information About Volcanologists

Testing bathymetric equipment at Coldwater Lake, Mount St. Helens...

Adam Mosbrucker tests equipment (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler, survey-grade RTK-GPS and a map-grade GPS) in preparation for a lake bottom survey.

(Credit: Senchyna, Mike. Public domain.)

Diverse sciences contribute to our growing knowledge of how volcanoes work.

Volcanology is a young and exciting career that deals with the study of one of the earth's most dynamic processes - volcanoes. Scientists of many disciplines study volcanoes. Physical volcanologists study the processes and deposits of volcanic eruptions. Geophysicists study seismology (the study of earthquakes - very useful in volcano monitoring), gravity, magnetics, and other geophysical measurements. Geodesy is a specialization that studies changes in the shape of the earth related to volcanic activity, or ground deformation. Geochemists study volcanic products (rocks, gas, lava), with specialties ranging from volcanic gases to larger scale whole-earth processes. Scientists also specialize in remote sensing of volcanic hazards (using satellites or remote cameras), mathematical modeling of volcanic processes, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, electronics development, computer programing, and hazards education.

Most volcanologists have strong technical backgrounds and advanced degrees.

Scientists perform maintenance on volcano monitoring stations in th...

Scientists perform maintenance on volcano monitoring stations in the crater of Mount St. Helens.

(Credit: Pauk, Ben. Public domain.)

Most volcanologists have strong backgrounds in one or more of the natural sciences including geology, chemistry, and physics, as well as computer science and mathematics. If you are still in high school, you can prepare by taking as many math, chemistry and physics courses as your school offers. It is also a good idea to become acquainted with computers, software and computer programming languages.

Higher education can put you on the track to become a volcanologist.

Many universities provide educational opportunities that could put you on track to becoming a volcanologist. The choice of undergraduate and graduate level study depends upon your individual interest. Undergraduate education requirements emphasize natural sciences (calculus, physics, chemistry, and geology). Once you start your undergraduate studies, look for internships and volunteer opportunities. They are good ways to obtain valuable training and experience for the future.

Almost all volcanologists have some level of graduate education, whether it be an MS or PhD. Generally the choice of specialization (volcanic gas geochemistry, ground deformation, seismology, physical volcanology, etc.) is made during pursuit of a graduate degree. Conduct some research about university programs before you apply. In many cases you can email or write individual professors to get more information on the types of research they conduct. It is important to choose a graduate advisor who participates in research that interests you. This early stage of inquiry into graduate programs is also a good way to make contacts for the future.

USGS scientist working in the sediment lab at the Cascades Volcano ...

USGS scientist working in the sediment lab at the Cascades Volcano Observatory.

(Credit: Westby, Liz. Public domain.)

Many careers support the goals of volcano science.

Put your interest in volcanoes to good use by choosing a career that augments the work of volcanologists. While volcanologists are carefully trained to monitor volcanoes and conduct scientific studies, they rely on other professionals to make communities resilient to eruptions. These careers include emergency managers, land-use managers, planners who maintain and exercise community safety plans, and classroom and community educators who work professionally and as volunteers to educate and prepare communities. Park rangers and interpreters manage and interpret volcano landscapes for visitors. Authors, journalists, storytellers, artists, and recreationists can all choose to incorporate volcanoes into their career work.