View all news

Community volcano monitoring in Guatemala

Volcano de fuego

An eruption occurred at Volcan de Fuego between 1 and 2 March 2016. Eruptive activity included lava fountains, lava flows, volcanic ash fall, and pyroclastic flows. Emma Liu

Community ashmeter at Volcan de Fuego

A family in the village of El Zapote has kindly agreed to host and collect samples from an ashmeter in their home. Emma Liu

Volcano de Fuego

Ashmeters have been installed in the homes of local residents in the villages around Volcan de Fuego, and have been attached to either fenceposts or roofs. Emma Liu

23 March 2016

Emma Liu, a PhD student in earth sciences, has introduced a novel community engagement scheme near a volcano in Guatemala.

Volcan de Fuego (volcano of fire) is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, with a lively history of life-threatening eruptions. It is thought that around 60,000 people are currently at risk from the volcano.

Emma’s scheme aims to improve monitoring of the volcano, while also encouraging community involvement with volcanology. Using the community instead of scientists also means the volcano has round-the-clock monitoring in case of an unexpected eruption.

Volcanologists monitoring the volcano found that collecting volcanic ash is challenging, with limited resources in the developing country. Volcanic ash is a hazard to human health as well as to aviation. Additionally, it holds vital clues into the activity of the volcano that can help to understand past eruptions and predict what it may do in the future.

Once ash falls to the ground it is easily blown or washed away meaning lots of valuable information is lost in the hours and days after an eruption. Collecting ash as it falls can be challenging over a large area so Emma came up with the idea to ask the local population to help.

Her cleverly designed ‘ashmeters’, made almost entirely from recycled plastic bottles, are being installed in the gardens of local schools and houses around the volcano. The components are easily replaceable and can be found locally. Ash falls into the meters and can be collected and bagged by the residents.

So far the meters have been installed in nine locations all around the volcano, allowing Emma and her team to sample ash from almost any possible type of eruption. As well as being indispensible from a scientific perspective, Emma hopes the scheme will help improve the relationship between scientists and the volcano’s residents. She explains: ‘By engaging local communities directly in volcano monitoring, we hope to improve the two-way dialogue between scientists and residents, thereby increasing resilience to ash hazards.’

The scheme has been a great success, with the ashmeters welcomed into people’s homes and attached to roofs and fence posts. Within a week of the ashmeters being deployed, they were tested by a large eruption at the beginning of March. Three ashmeters were installed during this eruption, all of which successfully collected ash. The Bristol volcanologists have now been able collect the ash which will be brought back to the University for analysis.

The ashmeters will remain in Guatemala and local volcanologists will assist in retrieving the sampled ash from people’s homes in the hope they will yield vital information for the management of volcanic hazard in the area.

Further information

Emma received funding from the Bristol Cabot Institute’s Innovation Fund to set up this project.