Patterns in Global Volcanic Activity, by Dr. Ben Andrews

by Cindy Schmidtlein, MSDC Vice President

Channelized lava emerges an elongated fissure in the upper right. Photo by USGS taken May 19, 2018.

Our speaker, Dr. Benjamin Andrews, is Director of the Global Volcanism Program (GVP) at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History who studies volcanoes to get a better understanding of how eruptions happen.

Headlines often suggest that the frequency of volcanic eruptions in increasing. Or that we are due for the "big one.” The Smithsonian’s GVP maintains the world’s most comprehensive records of volcanoes and their eruptions. Importantly, the records that GVP has compiled over more than 50 years show that volcanic activity is not increasing. Instead, when a particular eruption catches the news media’s attention, observational biases result in increased reporting and interest in all eruptions.

Dr. Andrews will talk with us about patterns in global volcanic activity and will briefly describe the 2018 Summit and Lower East Rift Zone eruption of Kilauea (Hawai'i) which captured the public's attention. This event presented substantial challenges for the USGS Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory and Civil Defense in forecasting, responding to, and mitigating the eruption. The vast amount of data collected during the eruption – and the volume of reports generated by scientists and media – also challenged the reporting capabilities of GVP. Dr. Andrews also will describe ongoing activity at Kilauea and the 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa.

Speaker Bio

Dr. Benjamin J. Andrews studies volcanic processes through a combination of direct observation of ongoing eruptions, field examination of ancient deposits, petrographic and petrologic analyses, experimental petrology, experimental volcanology, and numerical modeling. He has been at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Department of Mineral Sciences since 2011, and director of the Global Volcanism Program since 2016.

Prior to joining Smithsonian, Dr. Andrews was an NSF Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California Berkeley (2009-2011). He completed his graduate and undergraduate degrees at The University of Texas at Austin (PhD, 2009), University of Alaska Fairbanks (MS, 2004), and University of Oregon (BS, 2002).

Current projects include using experimental petrology and numerical modeling to determine the nucleation and growth rates of different mineral phases in magmas, studying the magma decompression rates using crystal textures and melt embayments, and using analog experiments and videos of real eruptions to quantify pyroclastic flow behavior. Recent and current field areas include Guatemala, Kamchatka, Oregon, and Hawai’i.