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Richard Gregory Vaughan, PhD

I am a research scientist who specializes in using remote sensing tools and techniques to study dynamic geologic and environmental processes, with an emphasis on volcanic and geothermal phenomena.

I am originally from Charlottesville, VA. I attended Virginia Tech (BS Geology, 1992); then went to grad school at the University of Georgia, where I studied the sulfur isotope geochemistry of seafloor hydrothermal sulfide deposits (black smoker chimneys) and got to go on a research cruise to the East Pacific Rise and dive in the Alvin submersible (MS 1995). I then spent a few years working as a field geologist in the mineral exploration / mining industry in Nevada. I returned to academia at the University of Nevada Reno (PhD 2004). My PhD project, funded by NASA, was focused on using infrared imaging spectroscopy to identify and map surface minerals associated with active geothermal systems, hydrothermal alteration, and acid mine drainage.

In October 2004, I started a Caltech postdoc at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. Coincident with my first day on the job, Mount St Helens began a renewed lava dome eruption that lasted until 2008. Quite fortuitously, there was a NASA remote sensing aircraft in the region, already scheduled to acquire some high-resolution visible, thermal infrared, and LiDAR data in the Cascades. So, I hit the ground running, applying remote sensing expertise to study something that had long been an interest: active volcanism. Ever since, my research has focused on the remote characterization of thermal emission from active volcanic and geothermal areas. 

I started my career at the USGS in 2008 as a Mendenhall postdoc, studying thermal activity in Yellowstone using satellite thermal infrared data. I am the remote sensing team lead for the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory and work closely with the National Park Service to use a combination of aerospace remote sensing observations and field work to map, measure, and monitor Yellowstone’s dynamic thermal areas. My goal is to better understand how thermal and gas emissions are related to (1) other signs of volcanic unrest (e.g., ground deformation and earthquakes), and (2) potentially hazardous volcanic / geothermal processes (e.g., eruptions, hydrothermal explosions, and vegetation kills). I also work on various projects with the USGS Geothermal Energy Program, Alaska Volcano Observatory, and the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. 

In addition to my scientific research, I am passionate about science education and communication to public audiences. When I was in Pasadena, I taught Earth Science classes at Pasadena City College and Cal State Northridge. I have also taught geology classes for the Geology Department at Northern Arizona University (affiliate faculty). I am the education and public outreach coordinator for the USGS Flagstaff Science Campus and serve as a liaison to the Board of Directors for the Flagstaff Festival of Science. Lastly, I am a co-Investigator on a NASA-funded education project called PLANETS, which is a collaborative partnership among education experts, curriculum developers, subject matter experts, and K-12 teachers across the country.