6 December 2014

Resurrected Post: Volcanology databases

Posted by Jessica Ball

ResurrectedNote: This is a post I was writing back in October of 2013, during the last government shutdown. There’s a little rambling about data availability, but it’s mostly supposed to be a list of some useful volcanology data resources!

The topic for this post came about via a couple of conversations I had in grad school about how volcanology data is organized and distributed, and the frustration I and my fellow scientists had been experiencing during the last US government shutdown. Many of us rely on access to publications and data that are written, maintained and distributed by the government, and the furlough of the people responsible for those repositories (and the legally-required denial of access to government websites means that much of our research has ground to a halt. The annoyance was relatively minor for me, since my research is done, but when I was trying to finish one discussion section of my dissertation last week I did find that there were a number of very relevant papers on the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption that I needed to skim and – because the USGS website was down – I had to spend extra time hunting down out-of-print paper copies in my department and library. (Thanks again to everyone who helped me, by the way!)

Losing the easy access we’re all used to can really derail your research. Databases like the Global Volcanism Program’s volcano activity reports are crucial when you’re trying to get all the information you can about a particular volcano. In the past, obviously, it was a harder and slower process to get hold of this kind of information, but being able to share data online has made it so much easier for volcanologists to find and use datasets to inform their research. The flip side of that is, unfortunately, the difficulties we can face when those websites are run by the government and become unavailable during shutdowns, or – and this is part of a big discussion on data archiving that’s been going on here at the USGS lately – when the people maintaining the sites retire or move or just plain old abandon them. But there are a lot of ongoing efforts to make sure that all those data don’t just vanish into the ether or languish on one desktop computer, and some of them have resulted in publicly available databases. Here are a few examples of ones that I’ve found useful:

  • Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program: This is the place for information on Holocene volcanoes (ones that have had activity in the last 10,000 years or so). Not only are there eruptive histories and timelines and photos in each volcano’s profile, but if the volcano’s done something in the last few decades, there are also monthly and weekly reports on the activity from whatever monitoring source was available. Sometimes this includes really detailed information that hasn’t been presented anywhere else, and if activity is currently ongoing it’s updated regularly.
  • VHub: This is the volcanology collaboration site run by the University at Buffalo. There are a lot of resources on here, including modeling tools for all sorts of processes, but it also hosts a few useful databases. The Volcanic Fields Database is a record of fields of monogenetic volcanoes (places where there are lots of volcanoes that have only erupted once and may have related magmatic sources); the FlowDat mass flow database records information about debris avalanches, lahars, debris flows and pyroclastic flows; and in the works is the DomeHaz dome-forming eruptions database. Some of these are invitation-only, but they’ll be made more widely available once they’re edited for consumption beyond the original research groups that created them.
  • WOVOdat: This is a database of information on volcanic unrest associated with volcanic activity, and includes “instrumentally and visually recorded changes in seismicity, ground deformation, gas emission, and other parameters from their normal baselines.” It’s complementary to the GVP website, and receives information directly from volcano observatories, although not in real-time (there’s a 2-year embargo so those monitoring the volcanoes can get their research/publishing done!)
  • Futurevolc: This is a collaborative project for long-term monitoring of European volcanic hazards, but they’ll also eventually have a collection of monitoring data for Icelandic volcanoes available.
  • Global Volcano Model: A database aimed at recording global volcanic hazards and risk (not the same thing!) Like some of the others, this is still being developed, but it includes previously existing collections of data like the Volcano Deformation Database. Another partner with GVP, VHub and others.
  • VOGRIPA (The Volcanic Global Risk Identification and Analysis Project): Another “systematic information on global volcanic activity, hazards and vulnerability that can be analysed to identify locations at high risk from volcanism and gaps in knowledge about hazards and risk”. They also have a database of volcanoes and eruption events, and are partnered with the GVP, VHub, GVM, and others. At the moment there’s a bit of a focus on Caribbean volcanoes, particularly Soufriere Hills. The project includes LaMEVE (the Large Magnitude Explosive Volcanic Eruptions Database).
  • Collapse Caldera Database: A catalog of quantitative and qualitative data about collapse calderas, which form after very large eruptions evacuate a magma chamber to the point where the roof can’t support itself anymore. It’s not comprehensive, but it contains useful information on things like ages of collapse, morphometry of the calderas, and deposits associated with the collapse-generating eruption.
  • ASTER Volcano Archive: This is more of an archive than a database (depending on what you consider data), but it’s a useful collection of spectral scenes collected by the multispectral ASTER satellite. This includes images from the near-infrared, short-wave infrared, and visible spectrum, and it’s good for things like mineral-mapping and tracking thermal activity. I used ASTER images to map alteration minerals at my field site in Guatemala.
  • Volcanic Ash Advisory Database: NOAA tracks all eruptions of ash that are visible on satellite for purposes of keeping airplanes away from the plumes, but records of all those events are also archived and can be searched at this website.
  • PubVolc: This isn’t a database in the traditional sense, but it is a great way to get data on volcanoes and eruptions. PubVolc archives every publicly available journal article on volcanology, and puts out a regular newsletter announcing new papers. It’s often how I find out about the latest research, and if you can’t access a particular journal there’s a way to contact the authors directly and ask for reprints!

Volcanology is relatively young as sciences go, but sharing data digitally is an even newer practice. Many of these databases have been around in other forms – print or lurking on someone’s computer or server – for years, but they’re just now being made widely available. Some of them are still under construction, and are looking for input from the research community – so if one of them is related to your work, consider contributing to the efforts to make it more useful!