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