PhD profile #4 – Melanie Auker

Blog Profile PhotoMelanie Auker – 3rd year PhD student

“Volcanic hazard and risk: A numerical approach”



1) The Twitter challenge: Your PhD in 140 characters

Using numerical approaches to better understand past, present, and future global volcanic hazard and risk.

2) How are you pushing the frontiers of science?

I’m not sure my PhD is “pushing the frontiers of science” in the same way that some other people are – my motivation comes from wanting to help people, by applying things that are known already in new ways. The frontiers of volcanology are being pushed, and pushed hard, by scientists all over the world, and what I’m trying to do is decipher whether we’re translating that improving science into socioeconomic benefits. My aim is to measure the past impacts of volcanism, understand the situation at present, and use these findings in combination to make some statements about volcanic hazard and risk in the future.

Volcanoes aren’t fussy with regard to when, where, and at whom they strike, so I’m not either; my PhD is very much a global study. The three main strands are as follows:

– A statistical analysis of the global historical volcanic fatalities record (what’s happened in the past); click here if you want to read all about it

Volcanic risk in theory. A hazard map for Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia. The map clearly shows the path of the hugely destructive lahars that hit Armero in November 1985, killing over 20,000 people. Image credit: Wright & Pierson (1992)

– Global indices-based volcanic hazard and risk assessment methods (what’s happening now)

– Poisson-process modelling of volcanic eruptions, to learn about volcanic eruption repose times (what might happen in future).

3) What part of your work do you enjoy the most?

Being a student! The combination of working flexibility and tonnes of extra-curricular activities to get involved in is great. I rarely have a free evening and that’s just how I like it.

4) What’s the most challenging aspect?

I don’t do field or lab work, so I spend pretty much all my study time at the computer. I get envious of people who’re able to change their working environment often – a change is a good as a rest!

5) Favourite piece of equipment

As I said, it’s just me and the computer… So I’ll say the Internet. Doing a PhD in the days before the World Wide Web must have been a lot more difficult.

6) Best travel perk of the job

Pretty much all the PhD-related travel I do is to conferences, but luckily they’ve been in some very exciting and interesting places. My favourite so far was Cities on Volcanoes in Colima, Mexico – great science, great people, and great weather.

Guatemala 2010 75
Volcanic risk in practice. Urban growth at the foot of Agua volcano, Guatemala. Its name (the water volcano) originates from a devastating mudflow on September 11, 1541. The crater lake was breached as a result of an earthquake but has never reformed. The summit is now occupied by a football pitch.




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About Melanie Auker

I’m an applied mathematician bumbling my way through a geology PhD.

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