Making the most of volcanic eruption responses

Fischer et al., (2021). “Making the Most of Volcanic Eruption Responses”. Eos 102. doi: 10.1029/2021EO162790.


Mount St. Helens, hidden away in a remote forest midway between Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., had been putting out warning signals for 2 months. Still, the size and destruction of the 18 May 1980 eruption took the United States by surprise. The blast spewed ash into the air for more than 9 hours, and pyroclastic density currents and mudflows wiped out surrounding forests and downstream bridges and buildings. Fifty-seven people died as a result of the volcanic disaster, the worst known in the continental United States.

In addition to its immediate and devastating effects, the 1980 eruption spurred efforts to study volcanic processes and their impacts on surrounding landscapes more thoroughly and to advance monitoring and forecasting capabilities. It also prompted further cooperation among agencies and communities to better prepare for and respond to future volcanic eruptions.

According to a 2018 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report, there are 161 potentially active volcanoes in the United States and its territories, including 55 classified as high or very high threat [Ewert et al., 2018]. Over the past century, especially since 1980, integrated studies of active volcanic systems have shed light on magmatic and volcanic processes that control the initiation, duration, magnitude, and style of volcanic eruptions. However, because there have been few continuously monitored volcanic eruptions with observations that span the entire sequence before, during, and after eruption, our understanding of these processes and the hazards they pose is still limited.

This limited understanding, in turn, hampers efforts to forecast future eruptions and to help nearby communities prepare evacuation plans and to marshal and allocate resources during and after an event. Thus, a recent consensus study about volcanic eruptions by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [2017] highlighted the need to coordinate eruption responses among the broad volcanological and natural hazard scientific community as one of three grand challenges.

The charge of the Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response (CONVERSE) is to maximize the scientific return from eruption responses at U.S. volcanoes.

The Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response (CONVERSE) initiative, which began in 2018 as a 3-year Research Coordination Network supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is attempting to meet this challenge. The charge of CONVERSE is to maximize the scientific return from eruption responses at U.S. volcanoes by making the most efficient use possible of the relatively limited access and time to collect the most beneficial data and samples. This goal requires looking for ways to better organize the national volcano science community.

A critical component of this organization is to facilitate cooperation between scientists at academic institutions and the U.S. Geological Survey, which is responsible for volcano monitoring and hazard assessment at domestic volcanoes. Since 2019, CONVERSE has conducted several workshops to allow groups representing the various disciplines in volcanology to formulate specific science questions that can be addressed with data collected during an eruption response and assess their capacities for such a response. Most recently, in November 2020, we conducted a virtual response scenario exercise based on a hypothetical eruption of Mount Hood in the Oregon Cascades. A month later, Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano erupted, allowing us to put what we learned from the simulation to use in a coordinated response.

Coordinating science during an eruption: lessons from the 2020–2021 Kīlauea volcanic eruption

Cooper et al., (2023). “Coordinating science during an eruption: lessons from the 2020–2021 Kılauea volcanic eruption”. Bulletin of Volcanology 85(5). doi: 10.1007/s00445-023-01644-1  


Data collected during well-observed eruptions can lead to dramatic increases in our understanding of volcanic processes. However, the necessary prioritization of public safety and hazard mitigation during a crisis means that scientific opportunities may be sacrificed. Thus, maximizing the scientific gains from eruptions requires improved planning and coordinating science activities among governmental organizations and academia before and during volcanic eruptions. One tool to facilitate this coordination is a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). In the USA, the Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response (CONVERSE) has been developing and testing this concept during workshops and scenario-based activities. The December 2020 eruption of Kīlauea volcano, Hawaii, provided an opportunity to test and refine this model in real-time and in a real-world setting. We present here the working model of a SAC developed during this eruption. Successes of the Kīlauea SAC (K-SAC) included broadening the pool of scientists involved in eruption response and developing and codifying procedures that may form the basis of operation for future SACs. Challenges encountered by the K-SAC included a process of review and facilitation of research proposals that was too slow to include outside participation in the early parts of the eruption and a decision process that fell on a small number of individuals at the responding volcano observatory. Possible ways to address these challenges include (1) supporting community-building activities between eruptions that make connections among scientists within and outside formal observatories, (2) identifying key science questions and pre-planning science activities, which would facilitate more rapid implementation across a broader scientific group, and (3) continued dialog among observatory scientists, emergency responders, and non-observatory scientists about the role of SACs. The SAC model holds promise to become an integral part of future efforts, leading in the short and longer term to more effective hazard response and greater scientific discovery and understanding.

Lessons learned from the 2022 CONVERSE Monogenetic Volcanism Response Scenario Exercise

Lin et al., 2023 – Lessons learned from the 2022 CONVERSE Monogenetic Volcanism Response Scenario Exercise.


When volcanic unrest occurs, the scientific community can advance fundamental understanding of volcanic systems, but only with coordination before, during, and after the event across academic and governmental agencies. To develop a coordinated response plan, the Community Network for Volcanic Eruption Response (CONVERSE) orchestrated a scenario exercise centered around a hypothetical volcanic crisis in Arizona’s San Francisco Volcanic Field (SFVF). The exercise ran virtually from February 4 to March 4, 2022. Over 60 scientists from both academic and governmental spheres participated. The scenario exercise was assessed for its effectiveness in supporting collaborative production of knowledge, catalyzing transdisciplinary collaboration, supporting researcher confidence, and fostering a culture of inclusion within the volcanology community. This identified a need to support early career researchers through community and allyship. Overall, the 2022 CONVERSE exercise demonstrated how a fully remote, extended scenario can be authentically implemented and help broaden participation within the volcano science community.