The Women of Volcanoes

Thursday, 14th March 2019

Jo Coles

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There has never been a greater time for young women to start considering the endless possibilities their career could lead them. Whilst International Women’s Day may have been and gone, we believe in celebrating powerful women every day. Plus, with students choosing options soon and us already finding ourselves in the penultimate term, we feel there is no better time for you to tell students about the fantastic Women of Volcanoes.

Many students find volcanoes fascinating, and it is often the most popular unit at most different key stages. But particularly for women and young ladies, it may seem a field of study that is prohibitive – perhaps seeming ‘too difficult’ or too male-dominated. But there are many women working either in a research capacity or actually out in the field, making decisions about volcanic behaviour that will have an influence on the lives of many in the public.

Here are some thoughts about their journey from two volcanologists.

Dr Janine Krippner

“I have loved volcanoes for as long as I can remember. When I was 13 I learned that it was a career option, and I knew right then that I was going to become a volcanologist. I knew that I wanted to study explosive eruptions, particularly pyroclastic flows, and that I deeply cared and wanted to help people.

Two decades later my goals have not changed. I was inspired by stories of volcanologists helping communities during events like the Mount St. Helens 1980 eruption, and the 1991 Pinatubo eruption. I knew early on how important it is to understand volcanoes and communicate in ways to help people who live and travel near volcanoes, and it has become my mission to ensure the communication of volcanic hazards is accurately reported – particularly in the media which often gives misconceptions or misleading information.

The most memorable and challenging time so far has been using social media and media (tv, radio, online, etc.) to help people get the right information during the Agung volcanic crisis in 2017.

I want to change the way we communicate so that people around the world can get the right information during a crisis, something so simple that can actually save lives when people get caught up in volcanic eruptions.

As a woman scientist, there have been many challenges in my career so far and I still face them. But the challenges are the part that make you stronger, that teach you the really important lessons, that define who you are as a person and as a scientist. No matter what field you get into, follow what excites you.There are so many ways to combine skills, tools, and specialities. Go to universities that work for you personally. There are infinite paths to success and don’t feel that you will fail if you don’t go to ‘the best’ school.

Work towards working with people who inspire you, who can support you, and who work in areas you want to work in, and don’t be afraid of changing direction along the way. Follow your heart the entire way. Stay focused on what you want to achieve, keep asking questions, be open-minded, and be a good person to those around you. We can achieve much greater when we work together and lift up those around us.”

Dr Janine Krippner, PhD MSc, is a volcanologist from New Zealand currently working in the USA. Forbes describes her as ‘a smiter of ludicrous volcanological rumours’ for her mission to ensure that the media gives accurate information, which is a particular challenge in today’s world where information is shared globally and so rapidly – and can be a danger if the wrong information is shared. Janine works to ensure media attention on volcanic eruptions is accurate, particularly when it comes to threat assessment and risk of hazards to ensure that people at risk make the best decisions and to reduce panic. She is an excellent example of someone taking their passion and scientific knowledge and using it for good, to benefit others.

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Lois Salem

“It all started at school with a ‘Horrible Geography’ book called ‘Violent Volcanoes’, which had a questionnaire section at the end to determine if you were “mad enough to be a volcanologist.” I scored 100% in the quiz and was avidly glued to every page, fascinated by the power of the Earth and the destruction that could be unleashed by magma erupting. Despite spending the following few years convinced I wanted to be pioneering female particle physicist thanks to a very inspiring physics teacher at high school (thanks Dr. Walgate!), it came as no surprise to my family when I went on to do a PhD in Volcanology after specialising in Earth Sciences during my undergraduate in Natural Sciences at Cambridge.

The area of Earth Sciences that interested me the most was how and why volcanoes erupt – I wanted to know what triggers an eruption and what controls the style of volcanic activity at the surface, which in turn affects people, the atmosphere, the climate and the topology of the earth.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most active (and dangerous!) volcanoes on Earth for fieldwork to try and understand why magma chambers become primed to erupt.

I have travelled to Hawaii, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and Indonesia in search of the answers. All incredible places with epic volcanoes, but I especially love to travel to the wildest and most untouched parts of the Earth in search of volcanoes. For that, Papua New Guinea and the volcanoes there will always be the winner in my heart for best moment in my career to date. We lived with a tribe on the island of Bougainville, trekked through untouched primary rainforest, found a volcano that was erupting with frequent explosions at the crater and lava flows, with one of the highest fluxes of sulfur dioxide on Earth, and carried out an extensive scientific expedition there, the first of its scale, with an outstanding team of scientists who became great friends along our crazy journey. It was truly epic.”

Lois is a PhD student currently with the University of Cambridge. She is currently researching Mount Etna in Italy and Kilauea in Hawaii, and she works with the monitoring systems of these volcanoes. She has a passion for scientific communication and documentary-making, to ensure volcanological information is shared. She hopes to raise the profile of science, in particularly volcanology, and improve public education and scientific awareness in the hope of making science more accessible and a greater focus in the public sphere.

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