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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program

17-15. Next-generation monitoring to rapidly characterize eruption hazards

Many of the ~160 active volcanoes in the USA are located along major flight routes or near communities that would be significantly impacted by airborne ash. A key goal of the USGS mission is to provide timely detection and warning of volcanic hazards, ideally within the first few minutes of eruption onset. For the past few decades, baseline volcano surveillance has relied primarily on seismic, geodetic, and satellite-based platforms, which are powerful under favorable conditions. But these tools cannot reliably characterize plume height, eruption rate, and other atmospheric processes within the first half hour, when they are most needed by decision makers. Such challenges are amplified by non-ideal conditions, such as poor visibility due to nighttime or cloud cover, wind noise, and non-eruptive tremor.

In this regard, two new tools have shown great promise. Explosive eruptions that inject ash high into the atmosphere produce: (1) low frequency sound waves (infrasound), and (2) radio waves from volcanic lightning.

In both cases, these waves can be detected remotely, up to thousands of kilometers away. And in the case of volcanic lighting, detection is a nearly-instantaneous, reliable indication of volcanic ash in the atmosphere. The recent eruption of Alaska’s Bogoslof Volcano in 2016–2017 showed how infrasound and lightning work in synergy with satellite and seismic detection to illuminate volcanic processes. A clear message from this response effort was that there is no “silver bullet” in volcano surveillance. The next generation of monitoring requires a diverse, adaptable, and multiparametric system. Among other things, this means developing the new frontiers of lightning and infrasound.

We seek a Mendenhall postdoctoral fellow to improve our fundamental understanding of geophysical signals from volcanic lightning and infrasound. This may involve a broad range of topics including:

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the advisors below early in the application process to discuss project ideas.

Proposed Duty Station: Vancouver, WA; Anchorage, AK

Areas of Ph.D.: Volcanology, geophysics, geology, electromagnetism or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Research Geologist; Research Geophysicist. (This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant’s background, education, and research proposal.  The final classification of the position will be made by the USGS Human Resources specialist.)

Research Advisor(s): Alexa Van Eaton, (360) 993-8955,; John Lyons, (907) 786-7422,; David Schneider, (907) 786-7037,; Matthew Haney, (907) 786-7111,; David Fee, (907) 347-8599,

Human Resources Office Contact: Leah Lor,, 916-278-9394

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
URL: Van Eaton.htm
Direct inquiries to Rama K. Kotra at
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Last modified: 15:47:12 Fri 02 Nov 2018
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