Jessica L Ball, Ph.D.

I am a physical volcanologist who specializes in volcanic stability and associated hazards, as well as volcanic hazard modeling and communication.


I am currently the Associate Scientist-In-Charge for Hazard Assessment and Communication at the USGS California Volcano Observatory (CalVO), and lead activities at the intersection of hazards research and risk communication. I design, conduct, adapt, and synthesize volcanic hazard research and use forward modeling to forecast and assess societal exposure and vulnerability to adverse events. I translate hazard information to policy makers, civil authorities and the public in order to effectively communicate the importance and relevance of volcanic hazards in the State of California. I entered the USGS as a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow, studying the effects of elevated rock pore pressure on stratovolcano flank stability.

I was previously emplyed as the Geological Society of America's Science Policy Fellow and I completed my doctorate at SUNY Buffalo in February 2014, investigating how the stability of silicic lava domes is affected by hydrothermal processes over short and long timescales. Previously, I received my BS in Geology from the College of William & Mary in 2007, and worked from 2007-2008 as the Outreach and Education Assistant at the American Geosciences Institute. My interests also include science communication and outreach, and I currently write the Magma Cum Laude blog for AGU’s Geoblogosphere

I can be found on Twitter at @tuff_cookie

PhD: 2014, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

BS: 2007, College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Where I work

At the Clear Lake Volcanic Field, my goals are to unravel the age and progression of maar eruptions, which comprise the youngest eruptive activity in the field. Maars form in steam explosions that result from the interaction of magma and groundwater, and their craters can be created in single explosions or multiple explosions at the same spot. The ash and rocks thrown up by these maars is present in many places around Clear Lake, particularly around Mount Konocti. If the maars are young enough to have the potential for future eruptions, understanding their dynamics and evolution will be very important for hazard assessment at Clear Lake.

Mount Konocti is another area of interest for me at Clear Lake. The mountain is a complex of four lava domes and multiple flows, erupted around 400 - 300 ka. While the domes themselves are no longer active, they still pose a collapse hazard, since lava domes are inherently unstable piles of rock. Several of the peaks of Mount Konocti have obvious landslide scars, particularly Buckingham Peak. I hope to use mapping and stability modeling to identify other potentially unstable areas on the dome complex, so communities around the peaks are aware if they are at risk for future landslides. 

At Mount Shasta, I am using decades of geological mapping, lidar DEMs, and the LaharZ_py model to simulate what would happen if lahars (volcanic mudflows) were to occur as a result of volcanic activity. Lahars are one of the most common hazards on snow-and-ice-capped stratovolcanoes, and while this photo shows that Shasta doesn't always have snow on its flanks, in the wintertime its snow cap can be up to 5m deep. This would provide ample water to feed lahars that could travel down the volcano's drainages and across its broad, populated lower flanks. By simulating lahars of different sizes and calculating their arrival times, I am creating maps that can be used for planning both in long-term land-use and hazard mitigation, and for response to any lahars that do happen. 

As a volcanic hazard communicator, I'm one of the public faces for the USGS Volcano Science Center. I'm a part of the social media team for USGS Volcanoes, which means that I help manage social media feeds and websites, create content for the web, manage outreach activities, and act as a media contact for the California Volcano Observatory. On the past, I've been a part of the media response to the 2018 Kilauea eruption, promoted CalVO and other USGS observatories to policymakers, and represented the USGS in briefings on Capitol Hill. I'm also responsible for building relationships with CalVO's stakeholders, and working with them to make our volcanic hazard products and communications effective.

Publications (see next section for USGS-only work)

Mangan, M., Ball, J., Wood, N., Jones, J.L., Peters, J., Abdollahian, N., Dinitz, L., Blankenheim, S., Fenton, J., and Pridmore, C., 2019, California’s exposure to volcanic hazards: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5159, 49 p.,

Finn, C.A., Maryla Deszcz-Pan, Jessica L. Ball, Benjamin J. Bloss, and Burke J. Minsley, 2018, Three-dimensional geophysical mapping of shallow water saturated altered rocks at Mount Baker, Washington: Implications for slope stability, J. Volcanol. Geotherm. Res., v. 357, p. 261-275.

Combining multiphase groundwater flow and slope stability models to assess stratovolcano flank collapse in the Cascade Range. Ball, J. L., Taron, J., Reid, M. E., Hurwitz, S., Finn, C., & Bedrosian, P., 2018: Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 123. https://doi. org/10.1002/2017JB015156

The hydrothermal alteration of cooling lava domes. Ball, J.L., Stauffer, P.H., Calder, E.S., Valentine, G.A., 2015: Bulletin of Volcanology, v.77, n. 12, p. 1-16. [Link]

An assessment of hydrothermal alteration in the Santiaguito lava dome complex, Guatemala: Implications for dome collapse hazards. Ball, J.L., Calder, E.S., Hubbard, B.E., Bernstein, M.S., 2013: Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 75, p. 676-693. [Link]

A new application of a finite element heat and mass transfer numerical modeling code (FEHM) to heat and fluid circulation in lava domes. Ball, J.L., Stauffer, P.H., Calder, E.S., 2012: Abstract V13A-2813 (poster) presented at 2012 Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, CA, 3-7 Dec.

Investigating hydrothermal alteration of a silicic lava dome complex (Santiaguito, Santa Maria Volcano, Guatemala)Ball, J.L., Calder, E.S., 2011: Soufriere Hills Volcano: 15 Years On Conference Abstracts, MVO, Montserrat, W.I., 4-8 April.

Alteration minerals on the Santiaguito lava dome complex, Santa Maria Volcano, GuatemalaBall, J.L., Calder, E.S., Giese, R., 2010: Abstract V31C-2335 (poster) presented at 2010 Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, San Francisco, CA., 13-17 Dec.

Volcanism on the Fish Lake Plateau, Central UtahBall, J.L., Bailey, C.M., Kunk, M.J., 2009: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Rocky Mountain 2009 v. 41 n. 6.

Geology and Geochemistry of the Osiris trachyte, Fish Lake Plateau, Utah (poster). Ball, J.L. and Bailey, C.M., 2007: Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Rocky Mountain 2007, v. 39 n. 5.

Summary of recent volcanic activity. Venzke, E. and Ball, J., 2004: Bulletin of Volcanology, v. 67 n. 1, p. 97-98.