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Volcanologist Job Description

Gagan Dhillon
A volcanologist's career is very challenging and rewarding. The basic job is to do a scientific study on volcanoes and volcanic phenomena. Read more to know this profile's educational qualifications, responsibilities, salary, and the different types of volcanologists.

Did You Know?

Out of the 1500 odd active volcanoes present on the Earth's surface, merely 90 have been identified and classified by scientists.
Do you have a keen analytical mind, good judgment and are good in science and maths? Does Geology, the study of Earth's rocks, volcanoes (dormant/active), its debris, ash clouds, structure and Earth's chemistry etc., arise curiosity in you? If yes, then this could be the job for you.
Volcanologists are geologists, who specialize in the study of volcanoes. This is a highly fascinating, challenging, yet rewarding career, where most probably you will be spending a lot of time in places like Hawaii, Iceland, Alaska or Italy.
All who have watched the movie Dante's Peak must imagine a volcanologist's job as the most glamorous, lifesaving and adventurous job ever. He gets to use modern, sophisticated gadgets like tiltmeters (measures changes appearing in the volcanic slope), seismic monitors (helps predict and track volcanoes), radar-mapping instruments, GPS and satellite imagery.
Definitely, this job is not meant for the faint-hearted as it is a high-risk job with clear and present danger, but when you have the lives of millions in your hands, it can make you feel like the only person with great powers and abilities to save the world.

Educational Requirements

  • Many budding volcanologists start their career by getting a bachelor's degree in geology.
  • The minimum educational requirements, at the entry-level, is a master's degree, and for higher posts, one needs a Ph.D.
  • A master's degree in earth science or geology is sufficient, where subjects like math, mineralogy and paleontology, etc., are very essential.
  • Courses in oceanography and atmospheric sciences are also important.
  • Studying subjects like computers, algebra, trigonometry, physics, chemistry and biology in school, can really help in later graduation studies.
  • As a volcanologist, you will need to study for about 10 to 13 years to become a qualified and certified volcanologist.
  • Since there is no particular qualifying degree that you need, it is best to cover most of the geology and geophysics studies, so that you are equipped to study the effects of volcanoes in a more extensive level.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • This work calls for a lot of courage and requires a keen analytical mind.
  • The ideal routine is living in a tent for two to three months, backpacking, hiking, climbing, and doing the various tasks assigned.
  • Keeping an extensive, up-to-date database of the upcoming and previous volcanic eruptions and preparing thesis are all the various responsibilities of this job profile.
  • A large part of this job involves understanding, analyzing and monitoring why volcanoes erupt, how they erupt and how these natural disasters affect life on the planet.
  • It also involves regular field work, working closely and visiting dormant or active volcano sites, collecting data, and then analyzing and interpreting this data.
  • A volcanologist has to always keep a track of these volcanic eruptions and predict future eruptions, because a vast majority of the population usually lives near such active volcanoes.
  • Analyzing and studying the debris emitted by volcanoes is also a part of their duty.
  • On an average, a volcanologist could earn around $90,890 a year. The salary range varies depending on the location, education, and experience.
  • A fresher or an inexperienced volcanologist can earn around $48,270, whereas, an experienced volcanologist makes about $187,200 in a year.

Types of Volcanologists

There are different types of volcanologists depending on their specialization and the type of volcanoes they study. They are:
  • Petrologists: They study minerals and rocks emitted by the volcano to get a clearer picture of the pressure and temperature of magma chambers in Earth's crust. They deal with the origin, composition, structure, and alteration of rocks.
  • Geodesists: They study changes a volcano yields during eruption and try to map out magma flow inside the crust. They analyse and measure large land areas, study new volcanoes and underground trenches and help predict natural disasters.
  • Physical Volcanologists: They study the eruption process and the erupted deposits. They are present at the eruption site, are responsible for predicting the future eruptions and also study the past volcanic behavior.
  • Geochemists: They deal with the gaseous emissions, their effect on climate and the volcanic eruption content. They study the magma and try to collect information regarding the next eruption. Most of the equipment is handled by this group of volcanologists.
A volcanologist has to face dangerous situations as there have been incidents where an entire team was lost due to the unpredictable nature of this job. The upside of visiting active volcanoes is that you get to visit all the exotic places like Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington.
Imagine working in a place like Hawaii, overlooking a vast expanse of pristine sea. If you can picture yourself outside the typical office job setting and prefer exploring, analyzing the earth's crust, then who knows, this could be your dream job after all!