Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Predicting Volcanic Eruptions


Volcanoes represent spectacular manifestations of the earth's internal energy and a tremendous hazard to society. In the past few decades, earth scientists have learned how to better forecast eruptive activity by monitoring seismic activity, uplift of the ground surface, and discharge of volcanic gases, as well as by studying deposits from past eruptions. This seminar will cover topics such as the physics and chemistry of volcanic processes, methods for volcano monitoring, and the political and economic challenges of predicting future volcanic behavior. Weekly meetings will be split between learning the fundamentals of volcanology, and discussing societal aspects through reading Volcano Cowboys, the story of the U.S. Geological Survey's volcano hazards program and what they learned about predicting eruptions between Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo, Philippines in 1991. Students will give a final presentation on a topic that they choose to explore in more detail. The course will conclude with a field trip to Mount St. Helens in Washington State, the site of a devastating eruption in 1980. The field trip involves camping and moderate hiking on hilly terrain.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Paul Segall

"I've been a member of the Geophysics faculty at Stanford since 1989. My research is focused on understanding and helping mitigate volcanic and earthquake hazards. My graduate students and I use precise Global Positioning System (GPS) and synthetic aperture radar measurements to study small movements of the earth's crust that often precede volcanic eruptions. I was fortunate to be able to visit Mount St. Helens soon after the devastating 1980 eruption, and my research group has been actively studying this volcano and the more recent, non-explosive eruption in 2004-2008. Over the years, we have also worked on volcanoes in Hawaii, California, and the Galapagos. I consider myself fortunate to be able to combine my love of the outdoors with my research, and look forward to introducing you to the field of volcanology and to Mount St. Helens. I have been awarded the James B. Macelwane and Charles Whitten Medals of the American Geophysical Union and am a member of the National Academy of Sciences."