Crossing Borders and Costing Livelihoods; The Unbearable Heaviness of Volcanic Ash.

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences


This proposal identifies an opportunity to bring together leading international experts to consider the dispersal and impacts of volcanic ash.

A key theme emerging from one of our existing research project (STREVA) is the role that volcanic ash plays in disrupting lives and livelihoods across all scales: from major disruption of international air traffic to the destruction of individual livelihoods via irreparable damage to crops and livestock or health problems. Another (VANAHEIM) is uncovering new insights into the ash loading and subsequent dispersal from eruptive columns. Globally other researchers have started to systematically examine the impacts of ash fall-out on critical infrastructure, buildings, communication, vegetation, soil and human or animal health

However we currently do not fully understand several things: (i) localised variance in ash dispersal on the kilometre scale and regional (cross-border) dispersal; (ii) thresholds and timings of the ways in which soils and plants are impacted by ash concentrations; (iii) the impact of ash on human and animal health over both short and long time-scales; and (iv) the role that ash concentration plays in disrupting transportation and communication networks during an acute volcanic crisis.

Even more importantly, the impact of these processes on communities affected by eruptions lies in their cumulative effects and interacting processes. We want to consider how to tackle this more effectively, by developing andapplying the very best scientific approaches.

Through this International Opportunities Fund we will establish a new team of experts to start to tackle these problems with a multi-disciplinary approach which engages key stakeholders and end users, and paves the way for future long-term collaborations.

We are taking a 'problem-based' approach to this issue and will focus on one particular island, but use it to consider general problems. This will help us to focus on the most critical scientific issues and provide a new group of researchers with a common problem on which to build an analysis of future research need.

The information from the specific setting (St. Vincent) can be immediately applied in disaster planning and regional contingencies for ash disruption. The network built by this project intends to not only report on its findings relevant to St. Vincent but to use these to apply for research finding that enables a diverse group of experts to make real progress in understanding, anticipating and mitigating against the risks from ash fall.

Planned Impact

The primary aim of this project is to identify research need to advance the understanding of volcanic ash hazards, their environmental impacts and their long term threat to livelihoods. Our problem-based approach will also maximize impact by (i) focussing on a specific country (a small island developing state) for which there are immediate beneficiaries from the research, and engaging with them, and (ii) developing subsequent research agendas with 'end user' needs built into the design.

The immediate beneficiaries are natural hazard response planners, decision-makers, and community leaders on St Vincent. They will directly benefit from new knowledge about volcanic ash impacts and the drivers of community response to longer-term hazard to livelihood that will arise from the technical and workshop research. The St Vincent government, the Red Cross and others currently planning for disasters in St Vincent and will directly benefit from workshop outputs that will feed directly into planning and policy that will improve protection of life during a crisis situation and improve health during recovery from volcanic eruptions. Agencies that are responsible for forecasting and advising in the event of volcanic ash dispersion and deposition in the Eastern Caribbean will directly benefit from new knowledge of eruption scenarios and ash dispersal including timescales for ash impacts. The new knowledge arising from our study will feed directly into the new disaster plan and from there will cascade towards planning for commercial operations on St Vincent, including the new airport and planned upgrade to the road and drainage network.

The Caribbean Region is considered as the 2nd most hazard prone region in the world. The region is exposed to multiple hazards and has a range of other inherent characteristics, common to Small Island Developing States which increases their vulnerability to disasters. Potential beneficiaries of this project include the organisations and agencies responsible for Disaster Risk Reduction, hazard assessment and planning for proximal volcanic ash throughout the Caribbean (and elsewhere in similar geographical settings) several of whom are being invited to the Workshop. Our research will provide new tools for characterising the threat of proximal volcanic ash, and its short and long-term impact that will be generally applicable. The synthesis of scientific judgement about infrastructural, communication, transport and agricultural impacts will provide a unique data resource for future studies in these areas.

Our research scoping exercise is timed to coincide with the "Country Conference 2015, Promoting a culture of Safety: Building Resilience to disasters and stimulating Sustainable Development" organised by the University of West Indies Open Campus in collaboration with the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) of St. Vincent and the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross (SVG Red Cross). Impact will be maximised by inclusion and involvement of key actors and stakeholders in the research and dissemination processes. Our Project Partners are fully engaged in this process and will use their country contacts to ensure this happens (see Letters of Support).

There will be immediate benefit as the Workshop outputs will be fed back directly during the hazard response planning process. This will maximize the potential impacts of the research for protecting human life and promotion of human and livestock health. The longer-term impacts will arise through reduction of national economic impact due to future potential ash eruptions on St. Vincent and elsewhere. One of the 'working papers' will be written specifically for on island managers of risk. The broader research agenda of the STREVA project and its associated Knowledge Exchange programme will ensure that impact is maintained beyond the first few months and provide impetus for nascent international collaborations to develop and prosper.


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Prata G (2019) A New Parameterization of Volcanic Ash Complex Refractive Index Based on NBO/T and SiO 2 Content in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

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Pyle D (2018) The 1902-3 eruptions of the Soufrière, St Vincent: Impacts, relief and response in Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research

Description Detailed (meso-scale) modelling of volcanic ash transport can realistically model distribution of ash, demonstrating anomalously high deposition levels relatively far from source.

Long-term planning for volcanic ash during an emergency on St. Vincent needs to be improved.
There is a need for further research on plants, soil and the impact on emergency transport and communication for volcanic ash.
Exploitation Route This work hilights some key research questions and pintpoints the need for detailed modelling of volcanic ash in some circumstances.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Transport

Description They have been used to design further workshops and to inform volcanic emergency planning on St. Vincent. We have now also used our finding to share insight with communities in Peru.
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Collated and created a review for the 2019 Global Assessment of Risk entitled 'Dynamic and Extensive Risk arising from Volcanic Ash impacts on Agriculture'
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description SVG workshops
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards
Amount £199,358 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P015719/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 07/2017
Description Harnessing 'citizen science' to reinforce resilience to environmental disasters:creating an evidence base and community of practice
Amount £197,268 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P016014/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 09/2017
Description Innovation Project (Translating Cultures)
Amount £99,290 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P007600/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 11/2017
Description SRC 
Organisation University of West Indies
Department Seismic Research Centre
Country Trinidad and Tobago 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have provided information relating to the research in a format most appropriate to this organisation. THey are the volcano monitoring organisation for the Caribbean.
Collaborator Contribution During research visits to the Caribbean, they have attended meetings, provided input and guidance into fieldwork at no cost to the projects.
Impact We have produced a series of risk communication films for St. Vincent. We are still writing collaborative papers and we are running several workshops together to convey the outcomes of our research to appropriate decision-makers. A report can be found here, for example:
Start Year 2012
Description LondonVolcano 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We made and erupted a model of Soufriere St. Vincent, we used this as a vehicle to discuss issues around volcanic risk both with UK Public and with SVG policy and decision-makers

We reached around 2,000 schoolchildren in the UK, school children in SVG and have had interested people from around the world but particularly West Indies access our website. This has not only inspired those we reached but has provided positive inputs to our research agenda
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Peruvian Ash impact workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We ran a series of workshops in communities impacted by volcanic ash, to discuss those impacts and good ways to mitigate them, Transferring learning from STREVA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description STREVA at Norwich Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A further exploration of interdisciplinary approaches to disaster risk reduction.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Volcanoes - an exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I curated a public exhibition to run at Oxford's Weston Library from 10 February 2017 - 21 May 2017. This event attracted a lot of media coverage (print, radio and television), and parallel activities, ranging from workshops to public talks. During the exhibition over 50,000 people visited. Over 100 articles about the exhibition were published in the press, with a notional reach of 200 million potential readers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017