What is a Volcanologist?

Volcanology is the scientific study of volcanoes and the geophysical functions that create them.

What Does a Volcanologist Do?

Volcanologists collect data about volcanic activity and then study these findings. Typically they will travel to a location where a dormant or active volcano resides to collect samples. They then examine this data in a laboratory, usually for one of three purposes: to understand why volcanoes behave, to understand how volcanoes work, and to predict future eruptions for the safety of local populations. Some will also study the geological history of a particular volcano. Depending on their place of employment, some Volcanologists may also teach private classes or the public about the importance of volcanoes.

Where Does a Volcanologist Work?

Typically, Volcanologists split their workdays between conducting fieldwork and working in a laboratory. During fieldwork, scientists may be required to venture to exotic or isolated locations where active or dormant volcanoes reside. They must collect various samples and data, generally in an outdoor area. Those hoping to become a Volcanologist must be prepared to travel, spend extended periods of time away from home, perform strenuous physical activities, and brave adverse weather conditions. Once they have finished collecting samples, they return to their laboratory to analyze their data. They then must communicate their findings to a group of scientists. Volcanologists employed by universities may also be required to spend time in a classroom environment.

Most of these scientists work full-time and may be required to work extended hours when performing fieldwork, which is quite frequent.

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What is the average Volcanologist's salary?

Volcanologists, who fall under the broader BLS category of geoscientists, earned a median salary of $93,580 as of May 2020, with the highest 10% earning around $201,150 and the lowest 10% earning around $51,890.*

Volcanologist Jobs & Job Description

Volcanologists attempt to decipher what clues rocks leave behind about the inner workings and chemistry of the earth. While there are many exciting aspects to a volcanologist career, most assignments study the remains of either dead or dormant volcanoes. While jobs due vary significantly, the following tasks are found in every volcanologist job:

  • Study the processes and deposits of volcanic eruptions
  • Gather data about where and how volcanoes are likely to erupt
  • Map the distribution of the rocks that make up the volcano
  • Perform chemical and dating analyses of rock samples
  • Measure volcanic seismicity, gravity and magnetics
  • Study changes in the shape of the Earth and correlate with deformation of the ground at volcanic eruptions
  • Study volcanic products, such as emitted gases
  • Plan and conduct field studies
  • Analyze aerial photographs, drilling logs, rock samples, and other data sources
  • Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
  • Make maps and charts with the help of additional interdisciplinary data sets
  • Prepare written scientific reports
  • Present their findings to external stakeholders, colleagues, and other interested parties
  • Review reports and research done by other scientists
  • Work with hand tools, heavy equipment, and lab equipment for diagnostic purposes

Senior volcanologists often have a broader scope of responsibilities that include management of a mine or mines as well as operations and personnel. Such responsibilities often include:

  • Supervise the work of technicians
  • Fostering a positive and safe work environment for colleagues
  • Engage in positive mentorship with junior members of the team
  • Consult on project scopes, schedules, and budgets
  • Navigate federal and international protocols, regulations, and best practices
  • Consult with government agencies concerning safe practices and hazards
  • Oversee equipment and instruments in field and lab settings
  • Ensure quality assurance, organization, and appropriate tracking of field data
  • Oversee the preservation of site integrity
  • Engage in administrative tasks on behalf of the team
  • Supervise fieldwork (survey, site recording, testing, monitoring, and data integrity) of multiple field crews
  • Ensure that safety protocol is followed in the field
  • Communicate with stakeholders through field status reports and presentation of team findings

What Is the Job Demand for Volcanologists?

The job demand for Volcanologists is expected to grow 7% in the next 10 years, which is faster than the average profession.* The public's increasing interest in environmental protection, safety, and management will spur the upcoming growth in positions.

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What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Volcanologist?

Volcanologists require a bachelor's degree at minimum in geology, geophysics, or earth science. However, a bachelor's degree typically provides little specialized knowledge of volcanoes and will only allow someone to obtain an entry-level position in the field. Most Volcanologists possess either a master's or doctorate degree, allowing them to acquire more advanced knowledge of volcanoes specifically. Those wishing to be employed by universities or seek academic funding would be well served by earning a Ph.D.

In some areas, becoming a Volcanologist that predicts the eruption of volcanoes may require a special license.

Degrees Related to Volcanology

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Volcanologists Have?

Volcanologists and those who wish to enter the field can also browse through these organizations' websites for valuable resources:

  • The Geological Association of America (GSA) unites all geoscientists, including Volcanologists, into a single group that focuses on promoting the importance of geological study and encouraging communication across related professions to enrich America's understand of how the physical realm works. They provide annual meetings, sources for continuing education, numerous publications, and a job center.

*2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for geoscientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.