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volcanology

GeoTalk: Friction in volcanic environments by Jackie Kendrick

GeoTalk: Friction in volcanic environments by Jackie Kendrick

Geotalk is a regular feature highlighting early career researchers and their work. In this interview we speak to Jackie Kendrick, a volcanologist at the University of Liverpool, and winner of the 2016 GMPV Outstanding Young Scientist Award. The occasion will be marked during the upcoming General Assembly, where you’ll be able to listen to Jackie speak in session GMPV 1.1 on the topic of friction in volcanic environments.

First, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little more about your career path so far?

My name is Jackie Kendrick, and I’m a post-doc in volcanology at the University of Liverpool. I studied for an MSci in Geology at University College London, where I conducted my research project in the Rock and Ice Physics Laboratory. This was an insightful experience for me, I had always been passionate about volcanoes, but having the opportunity to work hands-on in a research environment taught me that I wanted to focus on a career an academia.

I then went on to an Internship at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington State (USA), where I worked on processing of seismic data and had the chance to do a huge amount of fieldwork in incredibly varied settings – for example I installed seismometers at Crater Lake, deployed rapid-response monitoring systems (termed spiders!) at Mount St. Helens and performed landslide simulations at a debris flow flume.

I then moved to Munich, where I undertook my PhD in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Ludwig Maximilian University. During my PhD I was fortunate enough to largely choose the direction of my studies, as such my research focused on lava dome eruptions from an integrated field, monitoring and experimental approach. Lava dome eruptions have always held a huge fascination for me, and their unpredictable behaviour, with rapid changes from effusive to explosive eruptions, continues to enthral the volcanological community. My PhD opened up possibilities I could not have imagined, and I visited breath-taking volcanic landscapes and state-of-the-art laboratories, where I met so many inspirational scientists – I knew the research community was something I could not turn my back on.

Upon completing my PhD in early 2013 I secured a post-doctoral position at University of Liverpool, funded by the European Research Council. During this position I have worked on a great variety of topics, including experimental studies of magma rheology, rock deformation and friction experiments as well as learning new volcano monitoring strategies like infrasound. Importantly, I have also helped design and develop bespoke high-temperature equipment for the rapidly growing Experimental Volcanology Laboratory, which has allowed me to target specific conditions not previously explored, and once again focus my attention toward the behaviour of dome-building volcanoes, which I find so dynamic in both activity and dormancy.

My primary goal in my research is to strive for the integration of multiple strategies, be it geophysics, geochemistry or geodynamics to try to better understand volcanological processes, and that’s something I hope to continue to pursue throughout my career.

During EGU 2016, you will receive the Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the GMPV Division for your work on understanding what role friction plays in volcanic eruptions. For instance, you’ve carried research out which tries to decipher what role the frictional properties of volcanic rocks and ash play in controlling the run-out distances, and associated risk, of pyroclastic density currents. Could you tell us a bit more about your research in this area and its importance?

This is something that I have really just started working on in the last year – it’s a new direction for me and that’s really exciting! To be recognised by the community, in receiving this award, is a great honour, and I do hope that I can continue to push frontiers with the research I undertake in the future.

This new endeavour into pyroclastic flows  developed naturally, logically from work I was doing on sector collapse at volcanoes – where a volcano becomes unable to support its own weight and fails and collapses. We have just recently acquired the capability to study the frictional properties of rocks at high temperature, something which has been really lacking in volcanology previously, and so this opened up a whole realm of possible applications – one of which is looking at the dynamics of pyroclastic flows. Supported by colleagues at University of Liverpool, our approach is to constrain the frictional properties of a range of volcanic materials at realistic temperatures, for example, pyroclastic flows can reach several hundreds of degrees, even as high as 1000oC. The accurately constrained material properties that we get through laboratory experiments can then be integrated into models using accurate topography, which can predict for example, run-out distance, i.e. how far a flow will travel away from the volcano.

This type of study is hugely important at lava dome volcanoes especially, where pyroclastic flows can be triggered by even small collapse events on the lava dome or at lava flow fronts – events that may have no warning at all. Never has this been more apparent than standing on the lava dome at the summit of Mount Unzen (Japan), observing the precipitous drop to the small, vulnerable suburbs of Shimabara town, where tragically, 44 people lost their lives in a pyroclastic flow in 1991.  Hopefully, via our efforts to accurately predict flow dynamics, as well as actively tackling real-time monitoring targeted directly at pyroclastic flows (currently underway at Santiaguito volcano, Guatemala), such tragedies can be avoided in future.

The view down over Mount St. Helens crater from the summit, in the centre the lava dome has grown in the collapse scar from the 1980 eruption. The collapse devastated the proximal land and vegetation, dead trees still float like matchsticks in the calm waters of Spirit Lake and the event left the inner workings of the volcano open to scrutiny. In the background, the glacier-capped Mount Rainier lies dormant. (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

The view down over Mount St. Helens crater from the summit, in the centre the lava dome has grown in the collapse scar from the 1980 eruption. The collapse devastated the proximal land and vegetation, dead trees still float like matchsticks in the calm waters of Spirit Lake and the event left the inner workings of the volcano open to scrutiny. In the background, the glacier-capped Mount Rainier lies dormant. (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

These approaches are also pertinent in understanding landslides and sector collapse events too – an interest of mine that was sparked during fieldwork at Mount St. Helens, which suffered one of the most infamous and catastrophic sector collapses ever documented in 1980.

It seems like Mount St. Helens has been a pretty inspirational place for you over the years! Can you tell us more about the work it’s stimulated?

Absolutely- I’ve been lucky enough to visit this spectacular volcano on numerous occasions, sometimes for work and always for pleasure!

My MSci research looked at the strength of rocks that make up the volcanic edifice rocks (usually layered lava flows that give volcanoes their familiar cone-shape), but the real defining moment in my career path was during fieldwork in 2010. During a visit organised between Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, University College London, University of British Columbia and with the USGS we had the chance to study the crater lava domes up close for almost a week, to conduct thorough structural investigation of the internal lava dome characteristics. The domes, formed during eruptions in 1980-86 and 2004-08 are surrounded by the so-called Crater Glacier, which forms a ring around the domes, and which prevents access by foot – instead, we had to fly in by helicopter and camp in the crater!

There I began to appreciate lava domes for what they are, huge, rigid masses of near-solidified rock that are forced through the crust by buoyant magma below. This is especially true of Mount St. Helens, where the magma during the 2004-08 eruption was already crystallised at a depth of about 1 km and the dome is formed of a series of solid magma spines that rose up during the eruption, like arching whalebacks from the crater floor. These whalebacks are mantled by the products of friction, shear zones with powdery gouge, complex fracture networks and distorted crystals. It became suddenly apparent to me how important frictional processes were during these types of eruption, and how exciting it could be to push my research in a new direction endeavouring to understand it!

So since your career defining visit to Mount St. Helens in 2010, it’s  been your goal to understand how frictional properties come into play in different volcanic scenarios, including the conduit?

Exactly, I’ve always had a passion for new and exciting research directions – and looking at the frictional properties of volcanic rocks in the context of erupting magma was something only touched upon experimentally before.

During an eruption, magma (called lava after it reaches the surface) is carried from the subterranean magma chamber to the surface in a conduit. Some conduit models have proposed a friction criteria to explain certain seismic signals, but parameters were derived theoretically or from friction experiments on other rocks. I started performing friction experiments in 2011. In these experiments 2 cylindrical rock cores are placed end-on, while a load (force) is applied from one end, and the other end is rotated at a desired velocity to create a simulated fault. I’ve looked at the frictional behaviour of volcanic glass, of ash, and of crystalline lavas – and I always try to integrate these studies with geophysical observations of real processes. You can  watch one of these experiments in this video:

Another important aspect is examining microstructures and performing geochemical analysis, to make sure that the experiments recreate elements of natural examples. So far these investigations have led to a number of important findings:

  1. That the heat that can be generated by friction can be immense – just try rubbing your hands together for a few seconds and then imagine this process in magma(!)
  2. Volcanic rocks melt readily under friction – much more rapidly than most other rock types
  3. The heat generated by friction can make the magma degas – volatiles in magma are only stable under certain pressure-temperature conditions, and if rapidly changed the gas will try to escape – we term this thermal vesiculation, and cite it as the driving force of some explosive eruptions
  4. When some lavas melt due to friction, the viscosity (stickiness) of the melt is abnormally high – this melt “glues” the slip zone together (a phenomena called viscous braking) and it can actually control the rate of an eruption.

The list goes on, and there are many applications beyond the conduit, in terms of volcanoes, faults and even material sciences. But even after several years, nothing beats the excitement of seeing a molten magma form between volcanic rocks rubbed together for just a fraction of a second!

The product of our first successful friction experiment at University of Liverpool in 2014 – we created frictional melt in a pair of andesites from Volcán de Colima (Mexico). (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

The product of our first successful friction experiment at University of Liverpool in 2014 – we created frictional melt in a pair of andesites from Volcán de Colima (Mexico). (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

We can’t argue, volcanoes are possibly one of the coolest things in the Earth sciences, but what about them sparked your interest and the willingness to dedicate your research to them? In particular, why did you choose this interdisciplinary field at the crossroads between structural geology, seismology and volcanology?

For me, volcanoes hold such intrigue because of the power they possess – the unharnessed raw energy expelled during an eruption is something just fascinating to watch. The fact that they hold the potential to wreak havoc, and that we don’t yet really understand all the processes involved, just adds to my desire to study them, to know them inside and out.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this can be best achieved using an interdisciplinary approach, it’s all about monitoring, detailing and simulating the process. That is, we see something in real-time via geophysics, we simplify the system so that we can explore individual processes experimentally, and then we integrate our findings back into models to see if we can recreate a phenomena – there’s no point explaining one aspect if it can’t tie in all the others.

Fortunately I’ve had a pretty varied background, nonetheless it’s impossible to be an expert at everything – only highlighting the need to work together, to integrate knowledge from different fields in order to start deciphering complex earth processes.

This was the goal of the recent NSF-funded Workshop on Volcanoes 2016, held at Quetzaltenango (Guatemala), near the ever-active Santiaguito volcano, where we shared best practices and methodologies in monitoring and research – something I believe should be at the forefront of our minds moving forward.

To finish, what advice would you give students fascinated by volcanoes wanting to pursue a career in academia studying volcanology?

Well, first off, I’d say go for it! There are so many great post-graduate options nowadays, and you can really go down any route you choose – be it remote monitoring (like InSAR), proximal monitoring (including seismicity, gas measurements), laboratory experiments (such as friction described here) or you can approach volcanology from the social sciences, looking at influences on people and the environment. There are so many ways that you can get into volcanology, and what’s important is drive and passion, more than a specific academic prerequisite.

That said, I would certainly advise getting some experience before committing to post-graduate study, not least to find out exactly where your interests lie! You can get involved in monitoring by volunteering at volcano observatories, or in research by contacting professors and other academics for short internships and research opportunities. If you’re still doing your undergraduate studies, ask around, speak to graduate students to get advice and learn about the options open to you, and if you can, go to conferences, they are excellent for meeting influential people that can help shape your career!

An explosion at the dynamic Santiaguito volcano (Guatemala) in January 2016 – the volcano offers a unique monitoring opportunity as the ancestral Santa Maria volcano sits just a few km away and several hundred meters higher – the perfect vantage point. (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

An explosion at the dynamic Santiaguito volcano (Guatemala) in January 2016 – the volcano offers a unique monitoring opportunity as the ancestral Santa Maria volcano sits just a few km away and several hundred meters higher – the perfect vantage point. (Credit: Jackie Kendrick)

Imaggeo on Mondays: Snow and ash in Iceland

Imaggeo on Mondays: Snow and ash in Iceland

Featuring today on the blog is the land of ice and fire: Iceland. That title was never better suited to (and exemplified), than it is in this photograph taken by Daniel Garcia Castellanos in June 2013. Snow capped peaks are also sprinkled by a light dusting of volcanic ash. Dive into this post to find out the source of the ash and more detail about the striking peak.

The picture is dominated by a snowed mountain in Southern Iceland, captured in June 2013, three years after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. When Eyjafjallajokull erupted, it sent ash kilometers high into the atmosphere disrupting the air traffic in most Europe for weeks.

“This striking Icelandic landscape also inspired Tolkien’s fantasy in The Lord of the Rings,” explains Daniel, a researcher at the  Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, in Barcelona.

Eyjafjallajokull is located in the Eastern Volcanic Zone in southern Iceland and the area photographed is among the youngest (less than 0.7 yr in age) and most active areas of Iceland, right on the contact where the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates meet.The black rock seen in the image is tephra – fragments of rock that are produced when magma or or rock is explosively ejected (USGS) – from the neighboring Torfajökull rhyolitic stratovolcanic system, know for its cone shaped volcanoes built from layer upon layer of lava rich in silica and consequently very viscous. The light-green colour consists of the ubiquitous Icelandic moss.

In the image, the remnants of winter white snow are dotted with fine grey ashes from the Eyjafjallajökull 2010 eruption (about 30 km to the south of this image). Years after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, the volcano still burns hot and its lighter ashes are still blown over southern Iceland providing this magical colors over the entire region.

Daniel’s adventures in Iceland didn’t stop at simply photographing stunning volcanic landscapes. He also had the privilege to see the inside of one of the volcanoes in the Eastern Volcanic Zone close up. Watch his descent into the Thrihnukagigur volcanic conduit over on his blog, Retos Terrícolas.

The best of Imaggeo in 2015: in pictures

The best of Imaggeo in 2015: in pictures

Last year we prepared a round-up blog post of our favourite Imaggeo pictures, including header images from across our social media channels and Immageo on Mondays blog posts of 2014. This year, we want YOU to pick the best Imaggeo pictures of 2015, so we compiled an album on our Facebook page, which you can still see here, and asked you to cast your votes and pick your top images of 2015.

From the causes of colourful hydrovolcanism, to the stunning sedimentary layers of the Grand Canyon, through to the icy worlds of Svaalbard and southern Argentina, images from Imaggeo, the EGU’s open access geosciences image repository, have given us some stunning views of the geoscience of Planet Earth and beyond. In this post, we highlight the best images of 2015 as voted by our Facebook followers.

Of course, these are only a few of the very special images we highlighted in 2015, but take a look at our image repository, Imaggeo, for many other spectacular geo-themed pictures, including the winning images of the 2015 Photo Contest. The competition will be running again this year, so if you’ve got a flare for photography or have managed to capture a unique field work moment, consider uploading your images to Imaggeo and entering the 2016 Photo Contest.

Different degrees of oxidation during hydrovolcanism, followed by varying erosion rates on Lanzarote produce brilliant colour contrasts in the partially eroded cinder cone at El Golfo. Algae in the lagoon add their own colour contrast, whilst volcanic bedding and different degrees of welding in the cliff create interesting patterns.

 Grand Canyon . Credit: Credit: Paulina Cwik (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Grand Canyon . Credit: Credit: Paulina Cwik (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The Grand Canyon is 446 km long, up to 29 km wide and attains a depth of over a mile 1,800 meters. Nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history have been exposed as the Colorado River and its tributaries cut their channels through layer after layer of rock while the Colorado Plateau was uplifted. This image was submitted to imaggeo as part of the 2015 photo competition and theme of the EGU 2015 General Assembly, A Voyage Through Scales.

Water reflection in Svalbard. Credit: Fabien Darrouzet (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Water reflection in Svalbard. Credit: Fabien Darrouzet (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Svalbard is dominated by glaciers (60% of all the surface), which are important indicators of global warming and can reveal possible answers as to what the climate was like up to several hundred thousand years ago. The glaciers are studied and analysed by scientists in order to better observe and understand the consequences of the global warming on Earth.

Waved rocks of Antelope slot canyon - Page, Arizona by Frederik Tack (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

Waved rocks of Antelope slot canyon – Page, Arizona by Frederik Tack (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu).

Antelope slot canyon is located on Navajo land east of Page, Arizona. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tsé bighánílíní, which means “the place where water runs through rocks.”
Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic ‘flowing’ shapes in the rock.

 Just passing Just passing. Credit: Camille Clerc (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Just passing. Credit: Camille Clerc (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

An archeological site near Illulissat, Western Greenland On the back ground 10 000 years old frozen water floats aside precambrian gneisses.

Sarez lake, born from an earthquake. Credit: Alexander Osadchiev (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Sarez lake, born from an earthquake. Credit: Alexander Osadchiev (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Beautiful Sarez lake was born in 1911 in Pamir Mountains. A landslide dam blocked the river valley after an earthquake and a blue-water lake appeared at more than 3000 m over sea level. However this beauty is dangerous: local seismicity can destroy the unstable dam and the following flood will be catastrophic for thousands Tajik, Afghan, and Uzbek people living near Mugrab, Panj and Amu Darya rivers below the lake.

Badlands national park, South Dakota, USA. Credit: Iain Willis (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Badlands national park, South Dakota, USA. Credit: Iain Willis (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Layer upon layer of sand, clay and silt, cemented together over time to form the sedimentary units of the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, USA. The sediments, delivered by rivers and streams that criss-crossed the landscape, accumulated over a period of millions of years, ranging from the late Cretaceous Period (67 to 75 million years ago) throughout to the Oligocene Epoch (26 to 34 million years ago). Interbedded greyish volcanic ash layers, sandstones deposited in ancient river channels, red fossil soils (palaeosols), and black muds deposited in shallow prehistoric seas are testament to an ever changing landscape.

Late Holocene Fever. Credit: Christian Massari (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Late Holocene Fever. Credit: Christian Massari (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Mountain glaciers are known for their high sensitivity to climate change. The ablation process depends directly on the energy balance at the surface where the processes of accumulation and ablation manifest the strict connection between glaciers and climate. In a recent interview in the Gaurdian, Bernard Francou, a famous French glaciologist, has explained that the glacier depletion in the Andes region has increased dramatically in the second half of the 20th century, especially after 1976 and in recent decades the glacier recession moved at a rate unprecedented for at least the last three centuries with a loss estimated between 35% and 50% of their area and volume. The picture shows a huge fall of an ice block of the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the most studied glaciers for its apparent insensitivity to the recent global warming.

 Nærøyfjord: The world’s most narrow fjord . Credit: Sarah Connors (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Nærøyfjord: The world’s most narrow fjord . Credit: Sarah Connors (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

Feast your eyes on this Scandinavia scenic shot by Sarah Connors, the EGU Policy Fellow. While visiting Norway, Sarah, took a trip along the world famous fjords and was able to snap the epic beauty of this glacier shaped landscape. To find out more about how she captured the shot and the forces of nature which formed this region, be sure to delve into this Imaggeo on Mondays post.

The August 2015 header images was this stunning image by Kurt Stuewe, which shows the complex geology of the Helvetic Nappes of Switzerland. You can learn more about the tectonic history of The Alps by reading this blog post on the EGU Blogs.

 (A)Rising Stone. Credit: Marcus Herrmann (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

(A)Rising Stone. Credit: Marcus Herrmann (distributed via imaggeo.egu.eu)

The September 2015 header images completes your picks of the best images of 2015. (A)Rising Stone by Marcus Herrmann,  pictures a chain of rocks that are part of the Schrammsteine—a long, rugged group of rocks in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains located in Saxon Switzerland, Germany.

If you pre-register for the 2016 General Assembly (Vienna, 17 – 22 April), you can take part in our annual photo competition! From 1 February up until 1 March, every participant pre-registered for the General Assembly can submit up three original photos and one moving image related to the Earth, planetary, and space sciences in competition for free registration to next year’s General Assembly!  These can include fantastic field photos, a stunning shot of your favourite thin section, what you’ve captured out on holiday or under the electron microscope – if it’s geoscientific, it fits the bill. Find out more about how to take part at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/photo-contest/information/.

Imaggeo on Mondays: Mount Etna

Imaggeo on Mondays: Mount Etna

In this week’s Imaggeo on Monday’s image an almost Martian looking landscape, with ombre coloured soils, gives way to gently rolling hills, covered in luscious woods and vegetation. Were it not for the trees in the distance, you would be forgiven for thinking this image had been captured by a Mars rover. In truth, it is an entirely more earthly landscape: welcome to the slopes of Mt. Etna! Keep on reading as Alicia Mourgán, a researcher at the University of València, gives an overview of the origin of the richly fertile soils and climate of Europe’s tallest active volcano.

Mount Etna is associated with the subduction of the African Plate under the Eurasian Plate. A number of theories have been proposed to explain Etna’s location and eruptive history: rifting processes, a hot spot, and the intersection of structural breaks in the crust. Scientists are still debating which best fits their data, and are using a variety of methods to build a better image of the Earth’s crust underneath the volcano.

The soil around the volcano is very rich in minerals, owing to its volcanic origin. It is composed of a number of eruptive materials of different ages, including ash, sand and desintegrated lava (from one or more flows). Volcanic rocks make some of the best soils on Earth: not only are they formed of a wide variety of common elements, these readily separate into their elemental forms.

In the Etna region there are substantial differences in climate, not only compared to the rest of Sicily, but also from one area of the volcano to another. This is due to the fact that the Etna region has semi-circular shape, spread from north to south-west. This characteristic allows for different environments to be formed each with its own microclimate, benefiting from different exposure and changing proximity to the sea. Altitude in the Etna region varies between 450 m and 1100m above sea level. This factor is the main reason for the temperature changes between the day and night and also across seasons.

Compared to the rest of Sicily, Etna is pretty wet too. The highest levels of precipitation are recorded on the east slopes of the volcano. Rain can be practically absent over the summer, but precipitation can also be very high during the autumn/winter period.

By Alicia Morugán, University de València, València, Spain

Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.