Volcanic Action

Volcanic Action

What's it like living in the shadow of a volcano? UEA's Environmental Scientists have been working with communities in Latin America to reduce the impact of eruptions.


There are 1500 potentially active volcanoes in the world – with around 20 erupting at any one time. Yet despite the catastrophic impacts of eruption huge numbers of people continue to live near active volcanoes.

Researchers at UEA are working with communities living in the shadow of six volcanoes in Latin America and the Caribbean, bringing together teams of volcanologists, social scientists, and international development experts to help improve the ability to predict and survive eruptions.

Volcanoes occur at weak points in the Earth’s outer layer when magma, a mix of molten rock and unstable gases, rises up from deep underground, rupturing the Earth’s surface. Eruptions happen in all sorts of ways, but at their worst explosions of hot ash, gases and rock are thrown kilometres into the air, later tumbling down as super-heated flows of gas and rock, sweeping aside everything in their path. Even out of the line of flows communities for miles around can be blanketed in ash, collapsing roofs, destroying crops and disrupting road and transport networks.

Yet many communities continue to build their lives near active volcanoes, the reasons for staying often inextricably linked to the livelihoods the volcanic slopes provide.

Around the world 800 million people live within 100km of an active volcano. As volcanoes are located disproportionately in poorer countries, this can make the impact of eruptions all the more devastating to lives and livelihoods.

UEA volcanologist Professor Jenni Barclay is leading the £3m ‘Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas’ (STREVA) project to integrate the experience of communities at risk with the approaches of natural and social scientists to find new ways to reduce risk.

Prof Barclay is leading a team of researchers in learning from communities recently devastated by eruptions, speaking to survivors to build up a picture of common issues that shape how a community deals with, adapts to and recovers from volcanic eruptions.

“We are collaborating with local monitoring scientists, disaster managers and with ordinary people living and working in the shadow of active volcanoes. We are developing new means to forecast volcanic eruptions and their impacts and here the local communities also have a vast wealth of knowledge so, this is a real two-way learning process,” said project leader Prof. Jenni Barclay of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences.

The team has learned about the ways in which scientists and communities have adapted and responded to relatively recent activity from Soufrière Hills (Montserrat), Nevado del Ruiz (Columbia), Tungurahua (Ecuador) and Soufrière St Vincent (St Vincent) volcanoes. They hope to apply these lessons in helping communities around Cerro Machin (Colombia) and Cuicocha (Ecuador) prepare for future volcanic activity.

Prof Barclay’s research will make a real difference to the lives of those living near volcanoes. By unlocking the vast wealth of knowledge of local people, and integrating it with leading prediction techniques STREVA researchers are helping communities cope with future eruptions by learning from the past.

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The Expert

Professor Jenni Barclay

Professor of Volcanology
School of Environmental Sciences
My research covers all aspects of volcanology from the communication of hazards associated with volcanic eruptions to the ways in which magma is stored prior to eruption.