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UB Geologists to Help Communicate the Dangers of Colombian Volcano

Release Date: June 30, 2009

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Michael Sheridan hopes the workshop on Galeras will result in "a new approach to hazards that includes the opinions of the people who are actually living in the hazard location."

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- During the past decade, residents of Pasto, Colombia, and neighboring villages near Galeras, Colombia's most dangerous volcano, have been threatened with evacuation, but compliance varies. With each new eruption -- the most recent explosion occurred June 7-9 -- Colombian officials have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of the residents who live within striking distance of Galeras, located 700 km from Bogota.

Now, geologists from the University at Buffalo and the Universidad de Nariño have organized a special workshop in Colombia designed to tackle the communication issue, with support from the National Science Foundation and the Universidad de Nariño.

The purpose is to develop a consensus as to how best to raise awareness and protect these communities from dangerous eruptions at Galeras.

Unlike most scientific workshops, which are exclusively attended by scientists, this program will include the active participation of local residents and government officials working together with the scientists in all of the workshop sessions.

From July 6-11, Michael F. Sheridan, Ph.D., an internationally renowned volcanologist and director of UB's Center for Geohazards Studies, and Gustavo Cordoba, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher in the UB center, will run the workshop on "Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration in Volcanic Risk Mitigation at Galeras Volcano, Colombia." Complete information is available here.

The first half of the workshop, which will feature professors from the UB Department of Geology, the Universidad de Nariño in Colombia, officials from the local and federal government and the Red Cross, among others, will cover the history of volcanic eruptions at Galeras, volcanic crisis management, the physics and modeling of explosive volcanism and discussions about crisis management at Soufriere Hills Volcano, Chaiten Volcano,Vesuvius and others.

The second half of the workshop will begin July 10 with a session called "The People Speak."

Sheridan said that this part of the workshop puts a spotlight on the critical connection between local populations affected by an adjacent hazard and the level of scientific understanding and certainty -- or the lack of it -- about that hazard.

"The villagers feel they are safe," said Sheridan.

In one example, he said, some of them have said that there is a sacred stone with petroglyphs on it that lies directly in the path where volcanic debris is expected to flow, but it has been there for 500 years and has never been damaged by eruptions at Galeras.

The workshop will use the example of a bridge that connects a village in the region (La Florida) to the capitol city Pasto, a city of 400,000 located only six miles from the crater of Galeras.

"Using our computational tools, we will show that if mudflows from this volcano inundate the bridge, then the evacuation route will be gone," he said.

At the workshop, scientists, officials and residents will analyze existing hazard maps and safety plans for Galeras in light of the latest research on forecasting volcanic hazards.

"Our hope is that through the presentations by scientists and crisis management experts about what has happened at other volcanoes, and by using some visual tools, like computational modeling of mud and debris flows, we can help people living around the volcano better understand the hazard they live with," said Sheridan.

With decades of experience all over the globe, working with scientists, governments and local populations, Sheridan concedes that it will be a challenge to try to improve the residents' preparedness by attempting to better communicate how vulnerable they may be to eruptions at Galeras.

Still, he says that that goal will ultimately ease the job of volcanologists and others involved with risk mitigation.

"I'd like to see the workshop end with a new approach to hazards that includes the opinions of the people who are actually living in the hazard location," he said. "It may be too much to hope for, but if it's possible to get them to buy into the safety plan, that would be the best outcome."

In addition to Sheridan, other UB professors of geology who will present at the workshop include Gregory Valentine, Ph.D., and Eliza Calder, Ph.D. Three UB students also will make presentations at the workshop.

The Center for Geohazards Studies is one component in UB's strategic strength in mitigation and response to extreme events identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan being implemented by the university with the goal of rising among the ranks of the nation's public research universities. The center represents an interdisciplinary group of faculty researchers from the physical and social sciences, engineering and the medical sciences.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

John DellaContrada
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dellacon@buffalo.edu
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