Tag Archives: volcanic risk

Nevado del Ruiz, 1985 : mud, memories and moving on

Some of the valleys that surround the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz. The lahar bulked up as it travelled downwards and could have been up to 50 m thick at points
Some of the valleys that surround the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz. The lahar bulked up as it travelled downwards and could have been up to 50 m thick at points

I was 16 when the November 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz sent hot slurries of melted snow, ash, rocks and pumice more than 70km downhill straight into several settlements in the middle of the night. At dawn the following morning the settlement of Armero had all but disappeared under this flow, taking around 75% of its residents with it. Across the valleys more than 24,000 people lost their lives to those flows.

Like me, even the youngest kids who survived or witnessed the scenes of this eruption are now middle-aged, the valleys are green again.

USGS Image of the lahars covering the town of Armero in November 1985
USGS Image of the lahars covering the town of Armero in November 1985

A kernel of volcanologists were created in that moment, and more importantly an army of eye-witnesses who directly recall the impact and agonies of that night and morning. They also have insights into the attitudes and issues that lead to the rudest possible awakening when the lahars ploughed down the slopes of the volcano.

I looked up the river, towards the mountain, and I could see so much mud. It was a huge thing with giant trees, it came with roots that have been taken from the earth, and then it hit me and covered me….I felt as if it was those machines that process rice (eyewitness account)

These eye witness testimonies contain a remarkable flow of information; as rich and insightful into past events as the deposits that volcanologists frequently scramble over.  When the STREVA team held one of our forensic workshops in Colombia with our Project Partners it became clear during this, and subsequent research that a great service would come from finding a way to capture these important memories, for the people who live with the volcano now.

Part of the point of this film to help with sharing experience of the 1985 eruption with the next generation. Alex from Lambdafilms shares some of his footage!
Part of the point of this film to help with sharing experience of the 1985 eruption with the next generation. Alex from Lambda Films shares some of his footage!

We are making a series of films to convey events according to those caught in it, how people live with the volcano today, and answering the most important questions the population has about living with volcanic risk. The first of these films is premiering this week at our partner Servicio Geological Colombiano’s (SGC) commemoration activities for Nevado Del Ruiz . We’ve worked with one of our UK Partners, (Lambda Films) to do this. We understand the value of well shot films, and they have been patient with our need for volcanic detail.

Watching the result of the filming
One of our interviewees watches her footage. Teresa Armijos (UEA) has been working on the films and researching community vulnerability and James from Lambda films has worked with us in Colombia and St. Vincent.

The aftermath of the eruption remains firmly in the world’s eye as a consequence of the images that spread around the world. Sometimes shocking,  awards were handed out for the photographs that captured that desparate tragedy.

The disturbing image Omayra Sanchez, taken just a few hours before she died, with her legs trapped in the wreckage of her home. This image was taken by Frank Fournier,who won the World Press Photo Foundation Award for this image.
The disturbing image of Omayra Sanchez, taken just a few hours before she died, with her legs trapped in the wreckage of her home. This image was taken by Frank Fournier,who won the World Press Photo Foundation Award for this image.

Back in 1985 and back in the UK, a fairly brave piece of children’s programming stuck with broadcasting these images and covered the last few days of life for Omayra Sanchez , as she was trapped in the mud. There was no fairytale ending for her and that remains with me today, a permanent reminder of the complex issues that surround volcanic disasters. With our films we’re not looking to shock anyone but we are looking to work with SGC to use these memories to learn how to improve the outcome from the next eruption. We hope we have done justice to the communities of Nevado del Ruiz who continue to thrive around the volcano.

family_ndR NdR_gang_together_civildefence

Thanks to everyone who participated in the films and the filming, and to the  UK Natural Environment and Economic and Social Research Councils for KE funding.  All photos in this blog by Anna Hicks, unless otherwise stated.

Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction.

The new Edition of Encyclopaedia of Volcanoes is almost here! It will have an awesome 78 Chapters of volcanic goodness. I’m a co-author of Chapter 69 (yes, really)  ‘Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction’.

Following the publication rights of the Encyclopaedia I can send you a formatted offprint if you email me at j.barclay’at’uea.ac.uk. Please do.

We were originally asked to focus on the perception and communication of volcanic hazards, which is a rich topic already. The Encyclopaedia has many fantastic chapters on volcanic hazards, their impacts and management, but had no others on social processes in affected communities…. so we asked to extend our remit. We got permission and accumulated a new author(*) along the way.

Having asked to extend our agenda we then had to figure out how to cram a good synthesis of all the knowledge into 10,000 words or less.

Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)
Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)

Our starting point had to be the fact that ‘risk’ in volcanic communities is a combination of both dynamic hazards and dynamic population vulnerabilities. In many cases both change during the course of an eruption, and never in isolation from one another.  A good example is the current eruption of Calbuco: any new eruption will not only send ash and flows onto a landscape physically changed by last week’s activity, the social cultural and political landscape has also shifted in response to those events.

Thus we started by trying to map out end member ‘outcomes’ that have been documented as a consequence of both social vulnerabilities and volcanic behaviour. Outcomes can be negative and positive!

Our end member outcome 'map'. I can share this as, thanks to good advice from UEA's Open Access officer (Anna Collins), I retained the copyright.
Our end member outcome ‘map’. I can share this as, thanks to good advice from UEA’s Open Access officer (Anna Collins), I retained the copyright.

Understanding the range of volcanic activity and associated timescales created a good backdrop for considering the different ways in which risk communication occurs.

Mapping outcomes is fine but we also tried to consider the drivers of those outcomes – and given the Chapter Topic – we focussed on the social drivers. The topics as a list are: risk perception; knowledge transfer, governance, livelihoods and poverty, culture and religion, gender, age and disability, trust (and competing messages).

To keep the emphasis on our view that disaster never happens as a consequence of either a single social or physical aspect we used four case studies(**)  to illustrate how these social drivers interact with physical drivers.

Probably, the thinking of each  author has moved on and evolved a little in year or so since we finished the chapter, I know mine has. The interdisciplinary study of volcanic eruptions and the populations impacted by them is a pretty dynamic (and exciting) field itself. Hopefully when its time for the third edition of the Encyclopaedia to come around it will be time for another total re-write — and perhaps one or two Chapters more in this field.

Barclay, J., Haynes, K., Houghton, B., Johnston, D., 2015. Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction. In: Sigurdsson, H., Houghton, B., Rymer, H., Stix, J., McNutt, S. (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, pp. 1203–1214.

(*) I am a terrifically non-mysterious person by nature (in fact some might say utterly not very mysterious or completely not enigmatic at all). I like to experiment with it though. Not telling you which author was the new author.

(**) Eyjyafjallajokull, Mayon, Nevado del Ruiz and Goma. That was a tough short-list.

Sharing the Volcano Love


We are having fun but we are not messing about

Among other things, I do research on methods to communicate and reduce volcanic risk. To do this, I’ve spent a lot of time reading and learning about whole other disciplines and their research methods; up ’til now usually in the social sciences. Its both a joy and an occasional bag of toenails(*). There is also something of an intersection here with education and engagement:

(i) As a researcher I’m academically interested in gathering evidence to enable populations at risk from volcanic activity to reduce their losses. That includes understanding the best ways for scientists to forecast and communicate that activity;
(ii) As a University Lecturer its part of my job to engage students sufficiently well that they become motivated to understand the (sometimes tricky) physical concepts and processes behind how volcanoes work;
(iii) As a human being I think knowledge and education should be accessible to all, as a human right.

All of this makes me incredibly curious about what makes people interested in volcanoes; what might motivate them to find out more, and how it shapes culture.
I’ve always wanted to talk to ‘real’ specialists about volcanoes in books and film and how that works; and to work with them on some Engagement exercises. The Norfolk Firework Volcano has provided me with that opportunity (thanks UEA Annual Fund!) and we really want to share that knowledge and interest!

This is our first ‘teaser trailer’ starting the countdown to the Big Family Fun Day done in collaboration with UEA’s School of Film Television and Media’s ‘Make@UEA’. A mix of facts and fun and just a little hint of the messianic. We will not be out-partridged by AlphaPapa!

The facts here are straight from the Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program
The photographs are of Villarica (Chile) ,Tungurahua (Ecuador),Teide (Tenerife, Spain) ,Fuego (Guatemuala),Agung (Indonesia), Colima (Mexico) and Yasur (Vanuatu) and taken by Jonathan Stone and Anna and Kelby Hicks.
If you want to know why there are no volcanoes in Norfolk look here.
If you want to know more about volcanoes in film and literature the links (thus far) are embedded…. and there is more to come!

(*) arguably I’d be a more ‘successful’ academic if I focussed on just one thing and used my time to write and publish papers,papers,papers. I’d certainly have to spend a lot less time talking and explaining terminology. And speaking of defining terminology, what is ‘successful’ anyway and to whom? Never be afraid to try things that are a little bit different.

Pompeii, forensic volcanology and STREVA

Pompeii

Last week we were lucky enough to work with the British Museum’s ‘Pompeii Live’ Team, helping to introduce some ideas about volcanic processes for their Schools Broadcast. In a series of excellent and exciting adventures we used the bins and balls to create explosions, and tried to show hard it would be for our Playmobile charioteer to out run the (liquid nitrogen) surge.  Check out Jon Stone’s Storify page that captures the fun!

pliny_tristan_corridor
This is Trepidus Maximus (Pliny for short). He ‘volunteered’ to outrun a (LN2) surge to illustrate it’s velocity relative to his fabulous horse-drawn chariot.

Of course, as much as possible, we wanted to link it to the unfolding events in 79 A.D. So, it was also a splendid opportunity to engage with some of the painstaking research that has been done to recover a true record of precisely what happened.

In addition to the volcanological aspects, the Exhibition itself is a stunning glimpse into the lives impacted by the eruption. Although much was obliterated on that day; the objects left behind  provide compelling if sometimes sombre insights into Roman life and the manner in which those lives were so abruptly truncated. ‘Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum‘ indeed.

Forensic Volcanology

Image of the Wall Painting of Terentius Neo and his wife, on display at the British Museum (C) Soprintenda Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoil e Pompeii
Image of the Wall Painting of Terentius Neo and his wife, on display at the British Museum (C) Soprintenda Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoil e Pompeii

The story of the range of techniques used and the ingenuity applied in providing these reconstructions is almost as compelling as the narrative they reveal. Although there was no tweeting, no blogging*, no 24 hour rollings news, nor even vox pops from flustered scientists we understand pretty well the timings and driving forces behind the eruptions. We also understand much about the daily lives, cultural richness, interests and foibles of those left behind. Objects ranging from pumice through to bones, and leather have been subjected to tests and analysis to provide the reconstruction. A fabulous example of forensic volcanology: the physical, biological, chemical and geological properties of the objects left behind virtually  ‘whispering’ to us about what happened. The exceptional preservation of the artefacts left mean that they are positively shouting about the people who had worn, used and created them.

Streva Forensicselvolcanesmiecionad

The aims of the  STREVA project could loosely be paraphrased as research aimed at trying to prevent another Pompeii (or even a mini Pompeii) elsewhere in the world. So, its no surprise then that we are taking a forensic approach to our initial analysis. This time, instead of archaeological whispers we are collecting real voices and sharing geophysical data and eruption records in three locations where the population have lived with and monitored long-lived eruptions. The hypothesis here is that by ‘listening carefully’ to data that ranges from seismic waveforms to  the personal recollections of those who have had to adapt when faced with volcanic activity we will identify the most important dimensions of risk.

By doing better at analysing risk (and the global report card to date says ‘could do much better‘) then we can understand the underlying causes and identify systematically the stumbling blocks to societal resilience to eruptions. So, we need to listen very carefully to each and any source of information. Luckily, the process of listening is edifying, inspiring and humbling; David Pyle wrote about our first forensic workshop in Montserrat in September.

We are about to have our second in Banos in Ecuador, organised by IG-EPN with STREVA. They’ve already run some fantastic outreach art classes with the local children and we’ll talk with scientists, mayors, communities and emergency responders around the long-lived eruption of Tungarahua.

I can’t wait.

Children's art from village affected by the activity at Tungurahua
Children’s art from villages affected by the activity at Tungurahua

* Would Pliny have been a blogger? Discuss.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum’ is on at the British Museum until the 29th of September.

Pompeii Live is screened in UK Cinemas on the evening of the 18th of June, and the Schools version on the morning of the 19th of June. Follow  #PompeiiLive for updates.

Here is a link to a summary paper on 79 A.D. and its impacts from Giacomelli et al., from 2003 that can be accessed by anyone following this link. it illusrates some of the types of data that have been used.

El Volcan es mi Vecino is happening between the 12th and 19th of June around Tungarahua and Cuicocha in Ecuador. You can follow STREVA and IG-EPN on Twitter at @StrevaProject and @IGEPN