Conference Diaries: VMSG Meeting 2014

Originally posted on the EGU blog network

The Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group (VMSG) is a combined specialist group of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain & Ireland, and the Geological Society of London. Each year they hold a meeting, alternating the venue between different UK university departments. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of VMSG and over 200 participants headed to Edinburgh to be involved.Having been at AGU in December and IAVCEI in July this conference was significantly smaller with fewer and less varied sessions. But this also allowed much closer interaction with peers and ‘that person’ whose paper you read last month, which is often the main advantage of attending conferences anyway.

As is becoming the norm, I headed up a few days early to see what Edinburgh had to offer. Of course this meant a trip up to the summit of Arthur’s Seat. This is a glacier-eroded stump of an ancient volcano from the Carboniferous. Unfortunately it was raining so our view from the top was pretty awful (despite the weather being lovely and clear when we left the hotel…!). At the foot is the site of Our Dynamic Earth, a brilliant interactive Earth science museum that we also visited to satisfy our inner child.

The 'view' from the top of Arthur's Seat. Image credit: James Hickey.
The ‘view’ from the top of Arthur’s Seat. Image credit: James Hickey.

Monday 

The first day started with a session attributed to the late Barry Dawson, focusing on work concerning intra-plate and continental rifting (the pulling apart of the Earth’s crust). I’ll admit, this wasn’t and never will be my sort of thing, but it’s (kinda) good to be exposed to it (and similar things) each year at this conference just to keep up to date with the latest research.

My favourite talks of the day were Will Hutchison explaining the links between tectonics, volcanism and degassing at Alutu in Ethiopia and Mike Widdowson presenting evidence for what is potentially the world’s largest volcano, the Tamu Massif. But as he said, there may be bigger out there yet to be discovered…

Monday also saw the British Geological Society (BGS) demo-ing their new app, myVolcano (available soon on iOS). This crowd-sourcing application will allow the general public to contribute photos and descriptions of ash fall and other volcanic hazards, which will then be verified by scientists at the BGS. Such a citizen science initiative has double benefits; extra data for scientists to analyse, and education for the public.

The institutional rubber ducks in the volcano dustbin glowing before blast off. Image credit: James Hickey.
The institutional rubber ducks in the volcano dustbin glowing before blast off. Image credit: James Hickey.

The day finished with my conference highlight. To mark the release of the excellent Volcano Top Trumps, the guys from the STREVA project put on quite a show – a rubber duck race with a difference. Forget your slow moving streams, this was a VOLCANIC rubber duck race! Each university department was invited to submit a rubber duck mascot to be exploded out of a dustbin volcano. The duck that travels the furthest, wins. Unfortunately we from Bristol didn’t do too great and the top honours went to the team from Hull. But on top of this, Thermal Vision Research filmed the explosion with a FLIR (forward-looking infrared imaging) thermal imaging camera so we can all relive the glorious eruption!

Tuesday

Day two started with the VMSG award lecture given by Jon Davidson. He was pushing the case for more petrographic studies to help with the interrogation of crystals to aid the understanding of magma systems. This was followed by sessions covering subduction zone magmatism and planetary volcanism.

Interspersed between the oral sessions were the poster sessions. Tuesday was my day to present my poster on volcano deformation modelling, and I was lucky enough to meet some new interested people as well as discuss where my research is heading with old friends and colleagues.

Following lunch was my favourite session of the conference – volcanic hazards and risk. My top talks of the day were by Jonathan Stone on community based monitoring using the vigias (community volunteers, or ‘lookouts’) around Tungarhua volcano in Ecuador, and by Eliza Calder who was explaining the need for probabilistic and flexible hazard maps.

The day finished with the obligatory conference dinner and ceilidh (I still don’t understand where the association between geologists and ceilidh-ing came from but I enjoy it all the same…). This was held back at the Our Dynamic Earth museum and included an excellent lifetime achievement award speech from the recipient, Prof. Steve Sparks. As ever, he wowed the crowd with his combination of hilarious anecdotes and well-rounded visions for the future of volcanology and probabilistic risk science.

Trying to cool down post-ceilidh dancing! Image credit: James Hickey.
Trying to cool down post-ceilidh dancing! Image credit: James Hickey.

Wednesday

Following the previous nights antics, Wednesday morning started somewhat slowly as we moved to a day-long session on magmatic processes from the conduit to the atmosphere. Unsurprisingly however, the conference room was full to the brim come 11 AM when Steve Sparks started his VMSG lifetime achievement award lecture. Amongst many other things he called for increased multidisciplinary collaboration to continue volcanological advances and tackle new problems and theories.

The (very welcome) dual-screen layout in the conference room. Preventing neck strain and confusing presenters since 2014. Image credit: James Hickey.
The (very welcome) dual-screen layout in the conference room. Preventing neck strain and confusing presenters since 2014. Image credit: James Hickey.

Top talks of the day included Zoe Barnett explaining the mechanics of how sills evolve into shallow magma chambers and Felix von Aulock talking about self-sealing magmas with excellent references to bread baking.

Next year sees the VMSG meeting moving to the University of East Anglia. Here’s to hoping for another interesting and exciting conference!

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About James Hickey

I'm a geophysical volcanologist trying to better understand volcanic unrest.

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