Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Steve Anderson of the University of Northern Colorado explains how researching volcanism here on Earth can shed light on similar processes elsewhere in the solar system.
Steve Anderson is Professor of Earth Science and MAST Institute Director at the University of Northern Colorado. As MAST Director, he facilitates partnerships and collaborations that positively impact science and mathematics education. Researching active lava flows has taken him to the far corners of the planet, and some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth. He holds a Ph.D. in geology from Arizona State University.
Dr. Steve Anderson - Volcanoes Beyond Earth
For the past 25 years I have studied some of the world's most interesting and spectacular volcanic eruptions through my work as a geology professor and planetary scientist. My particular line of research is the study of active lava flow surfaces and what they can tell volcanologists about what a volcano will do next.
What we do is take precise measurements of the features on a lava flow surface, such as fractures, folds, rock textures, and the sizes of blocks forming as the lava flow surface breaks apart, and compare that to measured eruption conditions, such as flow rate, gas levels, seismicity, and explosivity. Occasionally we take simple measurements in the field during an eruption with tape measures or surveying equipment, and sometimes we use sophisticated airborne or satellite equipment to acquire these data remotely.
Our goal is to be able to look at an active lava flow surface and relate its surface characteristics to volcanic behavior, and then use that information in a predictive fashion to figure out what the volcano will do next. We can also use this approach on inactive volcanoes as we measure features on older lava flow surfaces in an attempt to understand how these volcanoes behaved in the past.
An interesting outgrowth of this research is that I now receive grant money from NASA to apply this technique to lava flows on Mars and Venus. Using what we have learned on Earth, we are studying the surfaces of lava flows on other planets in order to figure out how these extraterrestrial volcanoes behave. This allows us to better understand how volcanic processes behave differently under a wider range of pressure and temperature conditions, and enables us to develop more robust mathematical models of volcanic behavior for volcanoes on Earth.