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Prestigious new grant for volcano research

Mount St Helens shortly after erupting in May 1980

Mount St Helens shortly after erupting in May 1980 NASA

Professor Steve Sparks

Professor Steve Sparks NASA

27 August 2008

Professor Steve Sparks is to receive an ERC Advanced Grant for a study of volcanoes and their environmental and social impact.

Professor Steve Sparks in the Department of Earth Sciences is to be awarded a five-year European Research Council Advanced Grant for a project entitled ‘Dynamics of volcanoes and their impact on the environment and society’.

These grants are made under a new, Europe-wide scheme that supports exceptional, professorial-level research leaders in undertaking groundbreaking, high-impact research projects.  Professor Sparks was one of only 15 principal investigators in the UK to be awarded an Advanced Grant in the Physical Sciences and Engineering domain. The award of €2.4 million will enhance the University’s activity in the area of risk management, one of its four strategic research initiatives.

The project concerns the dynamics of volcanoes and their impact on the environment and society. Long-lived volcanoes like Vesuvius or Mount Fuji develop because of the slow accumulation of molten rock (magma) in the Earth’s crust at depths of several kilometres. These accumulations, known as magma chambers, govern when and how volcanoes erupt. The project aims to understand how these chambers form, in particular the physics behind their behaviour during volcanic eruptions. It will also look at the impact of eruptions on human societies and gather data in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC on global volcanic hazards to identify places at risk. The project has a key interface with the study of the human perceptions of risk; the best scientific understanding and advice is of no use unless people in danger take heed, and part of the work aims to understand how different cultures respond to volcanoes and their eruptions. This will involve collaboration with psychologists at Sheffield University.

Professor Sparks also received the Thorarinsson Medal, the foremost medal in volcanology, at the conference of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior in Iceland last week.


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