July 2019

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Over 60 per cent of active volcanoes in the last 10,000 years are located in Low-to-Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). Here active volcanoes are monitored and studied by dedicated local scientists. Many of these have significantly contributed to our understanding of how volcanoes work. Yet the vast majority of scientific work presented in journals and conferences is led by researchers from countries outside of LMICs. What’s wrong with this picture?

Last month, The UWI Seismic Research Centre (UWI-SRC), together with volcanologists and scientists from across the globe, worked to address this imbalance in representation at a workshop discussing the challenges and opportunities in undertaking volcanology research, monitoring, and risk mitigation in an environment where resources are constrained.

The focus was on the advancement of volcano science through country partnerships, by creating a community-driven network (as part of IAVCEI – the International Association for Volcanologists) to support scientists from LMICs.

UWI Today interviewed IAVCEI Network Chair and UWI-SRC volcanologist based at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) Dr Victoria Miller about the workshop’s discussions and outcomes.

Q: How did the idea for this workshop come about?

VM: Having strong networks in academia is very important if you work in a specialised field like volcanology. I realised this a few years ago when I was working on natural hazard projects in the Asia-Pacific region. I was looking for opportunities for my colleagues in Papua New Guinea to engage in international forums. Given the cost associated with travel, the vast majority of attendees at volcanology conferences are from North America and Europe, so people from countries like Papua New Guinea wouldn’t get to take advantage of these types of opportunities. So the idea came about to build a network that would break down these barriers.

Q: Who were the attendees of the workshop?

VM: The workshop was attended by scientists representing 20 countries, including volcanologists from LMICs such as Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Vanuatu. Participants were representatives of national government organisations, volcano observatories, and academic institutes.

Q: Name some of the challenges facing these volcanologists and LMICs in general?

VM: Limited financial resources are at the top of the list, and a lack of facilities for data analysis, as well as limited human resources. At any given institute there is a small number of employees so there are limits in both the breadth of expertise and the ability to travel overseas, particularly in a volcano observatory setting, where a minimum number of scientists is required at all times for safety reasons.

Another challenge is international collaborators. In certain cases, not all collaborators establish mutually beneficial partnerships, resulting in researchers undertaking work in a region without consulting local scientists. This is a big obstacle during a volcanic crisis, when international researchers make comments to the public without realising the possible impact this can have on these critical relationships.

Q: How will the community-driven network address issues discussed in the workshop?

VM: Workshop members worked together to provide a solution for a challenge that has affected most countries – issues arising from engagement with international collaborators. We developed a set of best-practice guidelines for engagement when undertaking volcano science in LMICs. These guidelines will be circulated amongst the volcanological community for comment, with a view to becoming IAVCEI-endorsed protocols.

Q: What implications will the network have for volcano science in Caribbean islands and other LMICs globally?

VM: The overarching aim of the network is to foster international partnerships with and between LMICs. The network will advocate for volcano scientists in LMICs at the global level to gain access to valuable resources for scientific research and to ensure a voice in strategic discussions. Volcanologists in the Caribbean, as well as other regions, will be able to improve the scientific work they undertake and to lobby for tools and research that are applicable to their specific work programmes.

Q: What role does/will The UWI play in this network?

VM: UWI is a key participant in this network through my role as Chair and through the involvement of other scientists at The UWI-SRC. UWI has demonstrated its support for the network by co-convening this workshop, as well as its willingness to reach out to other LMICs.

This workshop was co-convened and funded by The UWI-SRC, IAVCEI Developing Nations Network, International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG), US Agency for International Development (USAID),Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Université Libre De Bruxelles (ULB).