Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Conference diaries: The IAVCEI Scientific Assembly, 2013

With the undergraduates off on their holidays, summer sees a lot of large geology conferences take place. We’ll be using the Conference Diaries series to bring you the highs and lows of all things geology conference. Here, Mel Auker talks us through the IAVCEI Scientific Assembly…

What: The International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) last month held its four-yearly scientific assembly, titled “Forecasting volcanic activity: reading and translating the messages of nature for society.” The IAVCEI scientific assembly is the ‘grand-daddy’ of volcanology conferences, and something a lot of PhD students aspire to attend. It’s a truly international meeting, and was this year attended by approximately 1,070 people from 43 countries. The scientific programme comprised of 1,200 presentations with plenty of cultural activities planned alongside.

When: Saturday 20th July to Wednesday 24th July, 2013

Where: Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan. Kagoshima is located on the west of the Aira Caldera, a fifteen minute ferry ride from Sakura-jima volcano.

Conference location

Conference location

Day 0, Friday 19th: Along with a few other Bristol folk, I left for Kagoshima early on the morning of Wednesday 17th. The journey was long, and I arrived, exhausted, on the afternoon of Thursday 18th. Bed time couldn’t come quick enough that day! Friday morning was spent acclimatising (Japan is very hot and humid in July), trying to get over the dreaded jetlag, and exploring Kagoshima a little: primarily heading to the coast to watch for an eruption of Sakura-jima. The volcano must’ve known 1,000 volcanologists were in town and put on a great show! In the evening, it was time to head to the Ice Breaker event. Conferences often start with an Ice Breaker, to allow attendees to catch up with old friends and meet new ones in an informal environment. It’s a great way to whet the scientific appetite!

Highlight: Seeing Sakura-jima erupt.


Sakura-jima showing off in front of the gathered crowds. Credit: Mel Auker

Day 1, Saturday 20th: I’ll be honest – the combination of jetlag and a late evening at the Ice Breaker meant I didn’t make it to the opening ceremony and award lecture. Whoops. The scientific presentations got under way mid-morning, with keynote lectures by Yoshiyuki Tatsumi and Masato Iguchi. After lunch, I floated between sessions on testing eruption forecasts and lava flows. The former session was closely related to my PhD research, whereas the latter wasn’t so directly relevant, but I enjoyed getting my fix of physical volcanology nonetheless. Big international conferences provide a great way of hearing about work you might otherwise not know about. The day was rounded off with a food and firework-filled festival on the volcano. The Japanese are awesome at fireworks!

Highlight: Stephen Self’s talk, “Emplacement of continental flood basalt lava flow fields.” The size of flood basalts makes my mind boggle.

Day 2, Sunday 21st: Again, there were a few sessions that I dipped in and out of, making the best of the variety of presentations available. Moving between rooms also helped with staying alert; I was still struggling with the dreaded jetlag! My favourite session was “Responding to volcanic health hazards and volcanic ash impacts, mitigation and warning,” which featured two talks by Peter Baxter, a medical doctor working on the impacts of volcanism. Having read a lot of his papers, it was nice to hear about his latest research. There were also cultural offerings available to get involved it, including dressing up in Japanese armour and Yukata (a type of kimono), and learning how to do calligraphy.

Highlight: Dressing up as a Japanese Samurai. It’s not something you get to do every day!

Samuri pir

Dressing up as samurais. Credit: Mel Auker

Day 3, Monday 22nd: Day 3 was conference field trip and gala party day which was, of course, brilliant. The field trip took the form of a bus tour around the sights of Aira Caldera in which Sakura-jima sits, including Kirishima Shrine and a vinegar factory, among others. The volcano produced some perfectly timed eruptions, and it was really interesting to take in some of the other sights; for me, the spiritual ambience of the Kirishima Shrine was particularly special. After a long hot day, everyone boarded ferries and relaxed with a cold beer, noodles, and tales everything we’d seen that day. We were once again treated to a fantastic fireworks display, before heading back on land and fitting in another cheeky drink before bed.

Highlight: The whole day was great! If I was pushed for a highlight, I’d say the surreal moment spent soaking my feet in the foot spa at Takachiho Farm, overlooking Kirishima volcano with the noise of cows mooing and sheep bleating in the background. Japan is a weird and wonderful place…


Kirishima Shrine. Credit: Mel Auker

Day 4, Tuesday 23rd: The first of two sessions most closely linked to my work, “Forecasting volcanic hazards I” kicked off mid-morning, so once it was underway I spent most of my time there. The main foci were probabilistic hazard assessment and mapping, and tephra dispersal forecasting, providing a concise round up of research complementary to my own. There were also a handful of posters on display that caught my eye, so all in all a very science-heavy day for me.

Highlight: Yoichi Nakamura’s poster, “Space-time analysis of volcanic eruptions and disasters in Japan for the past 2,000 years.” I’ve done a similar global study myself, so it was interesting to do a ‘compare and contrast’ with this work.

Day 5, Wednesday 24th: I was up early being nervous about my talk, and practising away to myself in my hotel room. I was on at 11am, and the whole presentation passed in the blink of an eye; I was somewhat relieved to get it done! After a breather, I went back to listen to others in my session, “Forecasting volcanic hazards II” as well as dipping in to “Databases in volcanology.” My ideal session would be a combination of the two: using large databases to make broad scale hazard forecasts. Maybe next time!

After all the scientific presentations had finished, party time began…

Highlight: Evgenia Ilyinskaya’s talk introducing the “Catalogue of Icelandic volcanoes.” It sounds like they’re working on a great project, perfect for those of us with a love of analysing big databases.

IAVCEI party

Party time! Credit: Sarah Brown

Charly completed a PhD in experimental petrology. She used to make pretend volcanoes; now she works in renewable energy. Charly tweets at @C_Stamper.