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Could you be a Volcano Seismologist?

What does a volcano seismologist do?

Volcano seismologists are usually scientific researchers that study the small earthquakes that happen in and around volcanoes, to help understand how volcanoes work and where molten rock (magma) is moving underground. Others use the energy released by earthquakes (seismic waves) to image what volcanoes look like beneath the ground to try and work out where magma is being stored.

To do this they use sensitive instruments called seismometers that measure the shaking of the ground and can record tiny volcanic earthquakes. A seismologists job is then to analyse this ground motion data using modern computing methods. But they also need to go into the “field” to visit volcanoes and set up networks of seismometers around them to record the earthquakes.            

                                                                                                                                                                                   Tom computer

In the Cambridge volcano seismology group we study volcanoes in Iceland and have a network of over 60 instruments! A couple of times a year we fly out to Iceland, hop in some big 4x4 cars and drive into the rugged desolate interior. Here, among the black sand deserts, spiky old lava flows, snow drifts and freezing glaciers, we deploy our seismometers. They are buried in the ground and wired up to solar panels for power, with big car batteries for back-up in the winter months (when Iceland has very little sunlight)

                    field work2

Other research groups study volcanoes in many different places around the world, with very different styles of field work. From hot desert deployments in east Africa to mountainous Chile and even freezing Antarctica.


Could you be a volcano seismologist?

Do you enjoy being in the outdoors? Do you like volcanoes and travelling to new places? Are you interested in science? Do you enjoy challenges and solving problems? Then maybe you would enjoy being a volcano seismologist!

Volcano seismologists study how seismic waves travel through the earth, so a good physics background is really useful. Physics goes hand in hand with maths, so a reasonable understanding of maths is a bonus. Currently there is so much data to look at and investigate that it's really important to be able to get a computer to do it for you rather than doing it all by hand, so being computer literate is a must, but this is often a skill you can pick up as you go. Equally important is a love of the outdoors and the useful practical skills needed for fieldwork, like building solar panel stands, driving 4x4 vehicles over lava fields and wiring up seismometers.

There is no specific route into becoming a volcano seismologists, and people come from a whole range of different backgrounds (and countries), doing different A levels and different degrees at university.

What subjects are useful?

  • Useful A level subjects: Physics, Maths, Geology/Geography, Computer science
  • Useful degree courses: Geology, Geophysics, Natural Sciences, Geoinfomatics, Physics, Computer Science


Meet the scientists

Meet a few of the volcano seismologists that helped out at the Explosive Earth exhibit. From PhD student to lecturers and research fellows, they come from a wide range of backgrounds and different countries. Check out the profiles below as we ask them how they got to where they are, and why they think volcano seismology is such an interesting subject to study....


PhD Students









Mid Level Researchers





Senior Researchers




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