Gauging a Volcano's Threat

Greg Valentine stands before a volcano emitting a slender plume.

Greg Valentine heads the Center for GeoHazards Studies, which is helping to raise awareness about the risks a volcano in Colombia poses to surrounding inhabitants.

“There’s a city of about half a million people at the foot of the volcano, and several smaller villages on the flanks. Our end goal is to produce an assessment of the risk of this volcano that is tuned to the needs of stakeholders.”
Greg Valentine
Center for GeoHazards Studies director and professor of geology

The Colombian city of Pasto, population 400,000, sits at the foot of Galeras Volcano. Several small villages also flank the mountain.

Despite a history of violent eruptions, many locals say they don’t fear the giant in their midst; explosions have only claimed a handful of lives.

But Galeras is a threat, and UB’s Center for GeoHazards Studies is working to improve disaster preparedness by helping residents better understand how vulnerable they may be.

Since 2009, the center has been partnering with Colombia’s government and Pasto's Universidad de Nariño to bring community representatives, scientists, political leaders and emergency responders together to discuss the danger Galeras poses.

The short-term objective is to create trust between parties and give locals a voice in decision-making.

The end goal is to produce a risk assessment showing how volcanic activity could affect surrounding communities and the things they prize—not a simple task, says center director Greg Valentine.

"If we talk about risk in our culture, it's typically in terms of fatalities or economics," Valentine explains. "But other cultures don't necessarily value the same things we do.

"One of our stakeholder groups at Galeras is an indigenous people who, culturally, are very strongly tied to the land," he says. "They want to know about risk in terms of their connection with the land, which may be more difficult to quantify."

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