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Showing posts from November, 2017

New research by Cabot Institute members reveals super eruptions more frequent than previously thought

I’m sat in my office in the Earth Sciences department reading a research paper entitled ‘The global magnitude-frequency relationship for large explosive volcanic eruptions’. Two lines in and I can already picture the headlines: ‘APOCOLYPTIC VOLCANIC ERUPTION DUE ANY DAY’ or perhaps ‘MANAGED TO GET OFF BALI? YOU’RE STILL NOT SAFE FROM THE VOLCANOES. The temptation is to laugh but I suppose it’s not actually very funny.   

The paper in question, produced by four Bristol scientists and published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters on Wednesday, uses a database of recorded volcanic eruptions to make estimates about the timing of large world-changing eruptions. It is the first estimate of its kind to use such a comprehensive database and the results are a little surprising. 
In case you’re in a rush, the key take-home message is this... When it comes to rare volcanic eruptions, the past is the key to the future. Volcanoes have erupted in the past. A lot. These past eruptions establish…

My Reflections on COP23 – challenges, inspiration, and hopes for the future

I had the great pleasure of attending COP21 in Paris, 2015. The air was full of anticipation, hope and a clear sense of urgency. The achievements of the conference were remarkable and as a climate scientist I felt a degree of reassurance (albeit uneasy reassurance) that there was now a serious global commitment that may lead to a turning point in climate action.

Two years on, I was therefore excited to attend COP23 in Bonn as part of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) delegation, to see how things were progressing.

I was immediately struck by the difference. The negotiations here were largely focussed on how to implement the Paris Agreement. The discussion were necessarily more technical, but less awe-inspiring, ‘nuts and bolts’. Without the big deadline and the huge public pressure to sign a global agreement, it seems things in the negotiations moved slowly, and there was an air of frustration amongst some negotiators and campaigners.

Despite the slow pace in the …

How to turn a volcano into a power station – with a little help from satellites

Ethiopia tends to conjure images of sprawling dusty deserts, bustling streets in Addis Ababa or the precipitous cliffs of the Simien Mountains – possibly with a distance runner bounding along in the background. Yet the country is also one of the most volcanically active on Earth, thanks to Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which runs right through its heart.

Rifting is the geological process that rips tectonic plates apart, roughly at the speed your fingernails grow. In Ethiopia this has enabled magma to force its way to the surface, and there are over 60 known volcanoes. Many have undergone colossal eruptions in the past, leaving behind immense craters that pepper the rift floor. Some volcanoes are still active today. Visit them and you find bubbling mud ponds, hot springs and scores of steaming vents.

This steam has been used by locals for washing and bathing, but underlying this is a much bigger opportunity. The surface activity suggests extremely hot fluids deep below, perhaps up to …