Category Archives: Volcano Fun

Sharing research. Top 100 papers with ‘volcano’ or ‘volcanic: an analysis

We all have a responsibility to share and communicate our research. Altmetrics is a new way to track some of the ways we do this as a research community. Last summer (July 2015) they gave me free access to their database to take a look. How does interest in volcanology research permeate both the traditional and new media spheres? Does that translate at all into academic interest? Here’s what I found (yes, its taken me a while!)

If you can’t see the graphics well, the summary infographic can be accessed via this link.
I downloaded the ‘Top 100’ papers with the highest Altimetric score (this turned into 94 when I chucked out news and accidental doubles recently). First up, I tried to put them into broad categories. This was surprisingly easy, but obviously very subjective. A few papers fell into two of these categories.

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This is where they were mainly published. Predictable?

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This is how the Altmetric Score  and Mendeley Readers compared to citations using my subdivisions. For citations I used Google Scholar and did this slowly last week (May 2016). Yes, these are all on logarithmic scales! Academics clearly like papers about volcanoes and climate more than the wider readership. The opposite is perhaps true of Supervolcanoes. The papers outside of my main classifications are generally less well read and cited.

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Here are some more of the contributors to the Altmetrics scores.

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Finally, these are the news outlet counts and Tweets versus citations. For some ‘types’ of paper perhaps there is some sign that Tweet activity picks up the papers the academics subsequently cite well (maybe, perhaps…) but news outlets much less so. Again, news outlets have a skewed interest in supervolcanoes and human/volcano stories.

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What do I conclude from this? Not too much.. its only very recent papers (Altmetrics has been going since 2011 only) and a small subset (the top 100 are perhaps looking at trends with only a small component of the dataset). Its interesting nonetheless!

For me the most striking point was the relatively restricted range of topics that sparked broader interest. Perhaps, volcanologists need to work harder to communicate a broader spectrum of research in an engaging way. Conversely news media need to listen and report a little bit more imaginatively too.

What do you make of the data? I’ve put the final spreadsheet on Figshare here , along with the infographic I generated from my analysis. Feel free to play some more.

Thanks to Altmetrics for access to their database.

 

Ballistic Ducks and the Inclined Explosions – UEA Open Day Part 1 and 2

What’s up with all the ducks? July 4th Update! 

Fantastically nerve free rapid-shooting from ENV Undergrad  Esmee Thornton shows up the brilliantly different behaviour of the ducks vs the balls. We’re hoping to shoot a movie to shed more light on this tomorrow at the Planet Earth Summer School.

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 Here’s our new duck distribution map. This time we ran the explosions on more even ground.  The blue and green dots are the new 4th of July Faculty and Graduate ducks! 
    
 

Across the four UEA Open Days, the UEA Volcanology Team will be performing around 25 separate ‘bin bangs’ or explosions generated by liquid nitrogen in a simulated Vulcanian-style eruption.

The explosion is created by the failure of a well known Fizzy drinks bottle as iiquid nitrogen turns to gas. The explosion drives the water and balls upwards to simulate an explosion
Starting with a barrel of water, the explosion is created by the failure of a well known Fizzy drinks bottle as iiquid nitrogen turns to gas. The explosion drives the water and balls upwards to simulate an explosion

This seems like too good an opportunity to miss; so we thought we’d turn them into ‘repeat’ experiments! We’ve investigated how to vary explosion size before so this time we thought we’d look at the ballistics.

These are denser particles in an eruption, which behave as projectiles. Their behaviour depends on launch angle, velocity and their drag (retardation of movement by air resistance). We’re in fine company too, some of  the original work on ballstics was done by Gallileo and Euler.

We want to test the hypothesis that if we have   distinctive particle types, they would behave in distinctive ways and over time we could begin to predict which would travel further.

Enter the ducks!

Our ballistic ducks! They represent three things about the University. The heavier 'Faculty' Ducks: Health;Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences. The dignified Graduate Ducks and the little light bunny ducks!
Our ballistic ducks! They represent three great things about UEA. The heavier ‘Faculty’ Ducks: Health;Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences. The dignified Graduate Ducks and the little light bunny ducks!

So we set off a few of these:

Great #ueaopenday today we were setting off bin bangs all day! Science in action! #heyuea #universityofeastanglia #norwich #opendays

A post shared by University of East Anglia (UEA) (@uniofeastanglia) on

and then plotted the particles on a map (red for Faculty ducks, orange for bunnies, yellow for graduates).

The clearest result here is the influence of the slightly (north-south) inclined surface we ‘erupted’ our volcano on. This is not without a natural analogue, our colleague on the STREVA Project (Paul Cole) has  has published a paper on his observations of inclined explosions and the consequences for particle distribution and hazards (although in this case an inclined crater not an inclined conduit). There is just a hint that as our experiments got rumbunctiously a wee bit larger the effect of the slope was less important (wider dispersal of later ducks!).

A real 'inclined' explosion, Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat on 8th December 2008, from Cole et al., 2014.
A real ‘inclined’ explosion, Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat on 5th December 2008, from Cole et al., 2014.

Subtle differences in take-off angle, and particle interference mean that each individual particle is going to struggle to behave as the perfect trajectory each time. But with repeat experiments, if they were very different we would expect differences to emerge in the overall pattern.

To add further spice, and as a mark of respect for UEA’s interest in citizen science we are asking people who watch to take just one ball and ‘predict’ the type of furthest travelled duck.

The results of the 'citizen' predictions. The early strong showing from 'Faculty' meant they edged it with 37 votes. They were our furthest travelled ducks on 20th June.
The results of the ‘citizen’ predictions. The early strong showing from ‘Faculty’ meant they edged it with 37 votes. They were indeed our furthest travelled ducks on 20th June.

They’ve got our plot of ‘past behaviour’, my patter about the duck ‘properties’ and their own instinct (or scientific knowledge!) of what might be important.

We’re off again on Saturday the 4th of July. To celebrate our UEA-USA connections (Faculty, students and great connections with several Universities on our Year Abroad Programs) we’ll be using red, white and blue balls as well as ducks!


 

What’s up with all the ducks? July 4th Update! 

Fantastically nerve free rapid-shooting from ENV Undergrad  Esmee Thornton shows up the brilliantly different behaviour of the ducks vs the balls. We’re hoping to shoot a movie to shed more light on this tomorrow at the Planet Earth Summer School.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Here’s our new duck distribution map. This time we ran the explosions on more even ground.  The blue and green dots are the new 4th of July Faculty and Graduate ducks! 
    
 

Sparking an interest: volcanoes and creativity

Just before half-term I was invited to Yaxham Primary School to take part in a Science-Art-Writing (SAW Trust) workshop with  writer Andy McDonnell,  artist Liz McGowan and Class 3.  We were the last part of a  SAW triumvirate, exploring different aspects of Earth processes at three Norfolk schools.

In the next couple of weeks the children will continue a collaboration with Liz, producing a joint piece of Art for the Wellbourne Arts Festival.

I was pretty excited to be asked: I’m really interested in what the humanities has to offer towards understanding societal interactions with active volcanoes. I also subscribe strongly to the view that any artificial divide created between science and the humanities in schools needs cheerfully trampled into the ground at every opportunity. Creativity lies at the heart of scientific endeavour and critical thinking about ‘how things work’ is not just triggered by a table of results.

I’d had to provide ‘six images’ to represent my research field ahead of time. So, I was pretty curious about how these had inspired Liz and Andy and in turn how that would inspire the kids. It was a brilliant day.

I kicked off with some broad thoughts about volcanoes and tectonics, and then homed in on a couple of experiments to demonstrate some of the main processes behind different types of eruption. Then we looked at some models of real volcanoes to think about their shapes and some rocks, always the rocks. Volcanoes are (literally) nothing without the rocks.

Shhh! Poets at work. Getting going with the volcano poems. Concentration was intense. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.
Shhh! Poets at work. Getting going with the volcano poems. Concentration was intense. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.

So far so exciting. Then after some ‘warm up’ word exercises Andy used ‘personification’ as a vehicle to inspire the kids to write some poetry about what it would be like to be a volcano. I wouldn’t have thought about that, but he told me personification is a really helpful way to kickstart the writing process. It certainly worked at Yaxham!

  …I blew,

Everything flew,

I bubbled,

My ash clouds twisted and twirled.

 

The rubble was extensive…. (by Grace)

I supplied a few key volcano words (including my favourite adjectives from the Volcanic Explosivity Index) and the poems were ‘terrific’ (++). Even more interesting, it was fantastic to see some of the facts and principles I had told them come hurling back out as descriptions of volcanic activity.

Have you seen my pumice spurting out?

Have you seen my ash clouds falling from the sky?

 …So I think you’ll be glad to know that I screech out a warning!

Don’t come near me, for my breath reeks of rotten cooked cabbage.

I feel bumpy, smooth and I have a wonderful texture of freshly baked bread….

…Don’t hack at my skin because I’ll throw up all over you.

My lava feels like orange slop that sticks to my surface.

(By Ella)

I loved Liz’s artwork, and it was great to see how delighted everyone was to be able to create something so effective.  She’d produced cones of heavy paper and onto these was painted the ‘gloop’ and spattered some suitably volcanic paint.

Our own miniature volcanic arc. Image Courtest SAW Trust.
Our own miniature volcanic arc. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.

The pièce de résistance was a final squirting with water, changing the viscosity of the paint, encouraging it to run and create all sorts of authentic channels in the gloop. I was practically hopping with delight at all the ways it represented ‘real’ processes on ‘real’ volcanoes.

My very own original piece of Liz McGowan art! Notice how the water rivulets have created some really interesting channels through the gloop. This was made of ash, but from Liz's hearth rather than my rock collection, mixed with PVA glue.
My very own original piece of Liz McGowan art! Notice how the water rivulets have created some really interesting channels through the gloop. This was made of ash, but from Liz’s hearth rather than a volcano and mixed with PVA glue.

So did it add anything to the more straightforward rocks and bangs type stuff I would usually do? Unbelievably so, I was bowled over by just how much the poetry enabled the class to reflect on and create their own mental models for what I had told them, and I was asked interesting, provocative questions around the artwork.

When Liz goes back to the Schools they will produce much larger pieces of art together. These will reflect the whole day and complete an ‘installation’ with the other two schools. It will be spectacular, come and see it!  Liz and the pupils will exhibit this at the Wellbourne Arts Festival on Saturday 13th June between 11:30 and 13:00. I’ll be hanging around too, but the children will be the experts. And that’s just how it should be.

Thanks to Jenni Rant of the SAW Trust; Liz McGowan and Andy McDonnell for their collaboration and, of course Class 3 of Yaxham Primary School without whom the day would have been a lot less inspirational.

On the remarkable similarity between ‘the Avengers’ and interdisciplinary research

Last week it was my good fortune to sneak out and watch ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ when the kids weren’t looking. It has UEA in it (its the Avengers new training base). As the closing credits were rolling I said to myself ‘that’s not all that’s similar between the Earth’s mightiest heroes and my real true everyday life‘. The same is true for you too if you have learned to negotiate the rollercoaster of interdisciplinary(*) research.

Here’s how:

avengers
So you can tackle most research problems by a unique combination of using unusual metals, archery, the results of a poorly executed biochemistry experiment, magnetics, a large mallet and karate. There, shared the formula, now go use it.

(1) The Avengers have a wide range of complementary skillsets. Duh, yes. Not that insightful but the interesting part of that is this;

(2) they always solve problems best when one of them listens in to something someone else is working on and offers a solution the other one hadn’t though of. Its quite interesting starting out with a problem, knowing the technique and strategy you need to solve it and then cracking on. But its much more fun to find out there is an even better way to work on it. That’s one of the joys of working across disciplines for me. And then there’s;

(3) it’s as much about appreciating the gaps in knowledge as it is about knowing your own field. In Age of Ultron the extra-ordinarily naughty Stark causes a lot of the problems by bashing on without consulting his colleagues which, of course illustrates the need for;

(4) Communication, communication communication. If I was an Avenger obviously I would get to use one of those really cool earpieces and make transglobal communication instantly inside people’s heads. Yippee. How scary is that? Instead. Email, SKYPE,face-to-face and the telephone and lots of it. My absolute favourite being conference calls. If I had my time again with the grants I have now, I’d budget LOTS more meetings (face-to-face ones, and some writing retreats. Really. The Avengers I know are all on way too many missions at any one time).

(5) The realisation that as you get older you quite often have to be the one who stays back at Base but kind of knows where everyone is as they battle the baddies (formerly known as ‘the research problem’). This is only acceptable to me if it means I get to be Nick Fury. Any project worth its salt needs a Nick Fury (and no mistake) or it just turns into ‘parallel play’ rather than collaboration. There is nothing wrong with parallel play per se but it can lead to the words that killed a thousand research proposals *whisper* incremental advance (nothing wrong with that either..!)

This is Nick Fury. He is so senior he has a REALLY BIG earpiece thing AND a walkie-talke and uses them simultaneously. He knows the power of really good communication alright.
This is Nick Fury. He is so senior he has a REALLY BIG earpiece thing AND a walkie-talke and uses them simultaneously. He knows the power of really good communication alright. Sadly his eye got poked out by a team member who got about cross about all those emails.

Finally a sad un-fact

(6) UEA isn’t actually the new training base for the Avengers. Not yet, anyway.

(*) OK, Yes. I do recognise in this context, strictly, I am talking about multi-disciplinary research (where a group of researchers with different skills come together to solve one problem) as opposed to interdisciplinary research (where a variety of different techniques are used to solve one problem) or even transdisciplinary research (where you basically even involve your granny by getting her to knit you a nice new bobble hat for the fieldwork). But, its all about the _doing_ not the defining, in the end.

Academic Clickbait: devastatingly incisive analysis of most shared papers.

It’s been a semester and it’s time for some good cheer. Everyone lean back in your seats and reflect on the Year.

The Altimetrics people published their list of Top 100 articles for 2014. They did some analysis by subject area. Nice, but for me,that’s not quite enough. Its all about the type of interest not the scientific subject. Here, for the first time is my state-of-the-art Venn diagram analysis of their Top 50 (OK, it was meant to be 100, then I got bored).

This is followed by my Top Tips for Impact-tastic research areas for your New Year! You’ll probably need to click on the image to see my errr… ‘summary’ of the paper topic.

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OK – so if you are feeling a bit sad about the lack of attention for your existing subject area here are some ideas:

(i) hipster food intolerances

(ii) hominid remains in a social media age

(iii) scientists who waste their evenings constructing spurious Venn diagrams

(iv) climate change in black holes

(v) biology stuff. I simply don’t understand that. Everyone in my Twitter Feed is, like, crazy for volcanoes.

Volcanic Crises and Social Media: Top 5

Volcanoes. Lots of them have been erupting recently.

Volcanologists are a sociable bunch and many of them are present in the ‘social ether’. Believe it or not our parent organisation has a protocol for Professional Interaction during Volcanic Crises. It’s contested; and it was written in 1999. It’s about time we as a ‘social community’ acted collaboratively and sought to create a New Protocol for a new media.

I ‘do research’ on risk communication processes and I’ve worked on active systems.  I would not pretend to have a definitive overview, but, here are my top 5 tips. This is done with reference to that initial, carefully created, protocol and inspired by observing some pretty cool teamwork on Twitter in the face of a volcanic crisis.

(i) Act to help not hinder the monitoring organisation. In the midst of a volcanic crisis, life will be tense and abundantly reliant on good teamwork.

Bad teamwork from the Twitterati can include: unhelpful observations of timeliness of statements or information; strongly dissenting critiques of a monitoring organisation’s actions; interpretations in the absence of complete knowledge;speculation on what might happen next or possible impacts (Twitcasting).

Good teamwork could include: a strong trail to the definitive information where available (see iii); recognition of the ‘real’ experts; judgement free info-tweeting.

(ii) It’s not a race. Don’t let the excitement of being the first person to find a photo/image/interpretation get the better of you. With crisis info. treat it like research and only pass on verified or verifiable information. That amazing thing you think you’re the first to spot might be : last year’s eruption; a speck of dirt on a webcam lens; some fog; some nonsense article written by someone who has spent the last 25 years in a locked bunker. That’s all going to end in the clicking of the dustbin sign and feeling embarassed, in the meantime you could have caused real confusion.

(iii) If it’s not your expertise RT not re-interpret. This relates to (i) and (ii). My assumption here is RT’d Tweets don’t annoy your colleagues (they’ll see them once) and this helps to lay the trail back to a definitive source (observatory scientist or eruption expert).  This is helpful communication. If you do know the situation well and want to offer an interpretation just pause for a second to question whether you are in full possession of the facts. Plus, do ask, would you like someone to take your data and do that with it, latte in hand in a cosy office, while you’re out fixing the bust solar panels in the ash? Social media are not the vehicle for the first announcement of your intent to ‘help out’ with data analysis or risk management.

(iv) Respect the affected population. Other people are on Twitter. Yes, it’s true. Mass media like to portray the personal in amongst the terrible. Have a good think about quite how your exhuberant excitement might seem to the person whose house has just been trashed  — if they saw your Tweet.

(v) Do nothing that encourages reckless behaviour. Yes, it’s very exciting and that’s a cool picture. But did they do a very stupid thing to get it?  If they get hurt will other people have to risk their lives to save them? If you were evacuated but could see images of people precisely where you were told not to live would you feel cross? Personally I even steer clear of the ‘Look at the unbelievably stupid thing this person has done to get that picture’ style Tweets but the choice if yours! You may wish to call this out!

Clearly, this is not exhaustive. I’m not sure that it properly acknowledges the role that Twitter Q&A between experts can play in understanding a crisis – and how that plays into open discussion. Science is, after all, a journey and not a destination. However, this is about the height of a crisis – and we at least have to be aware that with social media we’re going on that journey in a crowded room.

The brilliant thing here is that there is absolutely no limit on the extent to which you can provide additional information or share your background knowledge and how this relates to the current activity. Things open up much more when you resort to blogs and think carefully: a  fantastic example of that is of course EruptionsBlog. We can and should do this as much as we all can!

Creative science education is the a brilliant foundation for excellent science communication (e.g. Fischhoff, 2013).

So, have I missed anything? Am I wide of the mark? Interested to hear your thoughts!

PS in for a penny in for a pound. I’ve mapped out my thought processes about talking to the media about volcanological topics. Doesn’t happen often but I do think quite carefully about when I do it.

My mind map of thought processes. The 'Am I better than a googlesearch' was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!
My mind map of my thought processes in dealing with a media query. The ‘Am I better than a googlesearch’ was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!

 

Predicting a political eruption? 5 cool things from the Scottish Independence debate

Just in case you are needing a wee break from the endless dancing stream of lava-shaped fabulousness from Iceland in your Twitter feed here’s a wee #indyref moment.

Quite a lot of the interdisciplinary research I do in volcanology looks at the role that community-based or collective action has to play in encouraging societies to reduce their volcanic risk.

So, it has been interesting to watch the groundswell of opinion coming from the ‘grassroots’ on behalf of the ‘Yes’ campaign leading up to the Scottish Referendum on independence.  Quite probably one of the most exciting pieces of optimistic, humorous subversion I can remember in UK politics. I don’t think you even need to want to vote ‘yes’ to appreciate the healthy upswing in interest in all things political around the Referendum.

Until now, its gone largely un-noticed by the mainstream media but suddenly the impact has become collective and the energy is beginning to spill into the polls, and the whole of the UK is noticing.

This is the best article I’ve read about waking up to this from Paul Mason (Channel 4’s Economics Editor)

So, regardless of the arguments around how to vote here are my Top 5 things from the quiet seismic revolution rumbling along in my #indyref Twitter feed.

(1) Billy Bragg weighs into the independence debate, sings a song at Yestival and makes some really good points about seeing the U.K. positively and changing politics in the whole country for the better.  Billy Bragg’s Twitterfeed says ‘A progressive is someone who wants to see society re-organised so that everyone has access to the means by which to reach their full potential.‘ Yes please to that, Billy, however we manage it.

 

 

(2) The pace has accelerated in the last week or two. The most highly charged explosion was around ‘the Patronising  BT Lady’ advert.  Even those in the Better Together Campaign seemed a bit upset. This buzzfeed headline captures it nicely….. biggest collective outcry I’ve seen since the  ‘Science, its a girl thing’ shenanigans. Take a look.

Patronising Better Together Lady: Buzzfeed

(3) The @NationalCollective Twitter Feed. Its funny, informative, never super-extra cruel to the ‘no’ campaign and sometimes a wee bit silly…. worth a follow over the next few weeks, even if you want to vote ‘no’.

(4) The Common Weal (@Common_Weal) This was triggered by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, which was set up in memory of the famous orator and trade unionist(*). It’s a collective posting and sharing of visions for the setting up of a new independent country.  An optimistic thinking space.

(5) …. and finally SKYNEWS’ new campaign to get you to watch the referendum result with them is pretty good. Especially David Cameron doing Taylor Swift…

 

 

 

(*)Jimmy Reid is partly famous for his ‘rat race’ speech which he gave when accepting his Rectorship of Glasgow University. This bit is my best quote antidote to those moments when academia feels a little bit like a treadmill.

To the students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack.’