Understanding the processes driving active Volcanoes

Current Research Projects - G. Williams-Jones

Volcanoes come in all shapes and sizes and are located around the world -  our research focuses on understanding what makes them tick! By applying geochemical, geophysical and remote sensing techniues, we aim to identify the signals of where and when magma is intruded and how it and associated fluids interact with the surface.

Glaciovolcanic voids in Job Glacier in the Mt. Meager Volcanic Complex, British Columbia, Canada.

Gas and vapour emissions from glacier-capped volcanoes can melt voids into the overlying ice. The size and shape of a glaciovolcanic void like this, are dependent on the amount of heat provided by the volcano and the manner of heat transfer, but also the thickness and dynamics of the glacier. I am studying the formation and evolution of these glaciovolcanic phenomena by using analytical and numerical models. A better understanding of these complex interactions could aid with monitoring and hazard assessments of glaciated volcanoes.

Magma residence time of volcanoes in the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt

The Pacific coast of Southern British Columbia hosts numerous dormant and active volcanoes that are yet to be studied extensively. Importantly, the dynamics of magma storage and replenishment beneath these volcanoes have not been constrained. Understanding their past behaviour can help forecast their future activity but requires tighter bounds on the timescales of magmatic processes that precede eruptions. The chemical gradients contained in zoned crystals can be treated as time capsules and we are using diffusion chronometry to determine these timescales.

Investigating Canada’s deadliest volcanic eruption

We aimed to understand the eruptive history of Canada’s deadliest volcanic eruption - the ~ 1700 CE eruption of Tseax volcano in NW British Columbia. Combining extensive field work, geochemical studies and numerical modelling and with the help of Nisga’a oral histories, we reconstructed the eruptive history of the volcano. The eruption emitted 0.5 km3 of lava in a short period of time (weeks to a few months) mostly in the form of 4 far-travelled lava flows - these may have been partially responsible for the deaths of up to 2000 people from the Nisga'a Nation.  


Gravity measurements in volcanic ground: Looking inside our explosive neighbors

Geodetic techniques have been considered a seminal part of volcano monitoring and eruption forecasting for decades. Ground deformation and gravity are used to determine mass change below active volcanoes as well as to refine geophysical models of the subsurface. Gravity monitoring at the Ecuadorian volcanoes Cotopaxi and Sierra Negra helped constrain mass movements (e.g., hydrothermal fluid migration in the case of Cotopaxi; recharge of magma below Sierra Negra), and discern between possible causes of volcanic unrest. In British Columbia, spatial gravity data collected at Mt. Meager will inform inverse models of the subsurface geological structures, imaging its geothermal reservoir and further advancing our understanding of the hazards posed by the massif.

Using Machine Learning techniques to uncover processes below and over volcanoes and mountains

One of our objectives is to study the signals related to the growth and collapse of volcanoes and mountains. To achieve this, we analyze seismic and infrasonic signals to detect events within the topographic structures as well as surficial mass movements that occur in a random manner. To understand the possible mechanisms that generate these events and the potential effects they trigger, the primary steps are to accurately detect, classify, and possibly locate these events. We apply digital signal processing and machine learning techniques to perform these tasks in an efficient and automated manner. To model and train the systems we are using data kindly shared by Instituto Geofísico de la Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Ecuador (IGEPN). The resulting tools will be applied to local novel data from Mt. Meager and Mt. Curry.