In Harms Way: Active Volcanism and Volcanic Hazards

Friday January 20, 2006 – 7:30 p.m. at the Almonte United Church Social Hall

Speaker: Brian Cousens, Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University

Topic: In Harms Way:  Active Volcanism and Volcanic Hazards


Over the past few years, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in “natural disasters”, including hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.  However, is it the number of disasters that are increasing, or is it the number of people putting themselves in harms way that has increased?  A major part of the solution to mitigating the effects of natural disasters is public education and preparedness for emergencies.  The US government reaction to Hurricane Katrina is a superb example of neglect of scientific and engineering data and a failure to understand geologic hazards.  In contrast, recent studies leading to a better understanding of volcanic systems is leading to improved volcanic eruption forecasting, although it is still impossible to accurately predict the exact day and time that any volcano will “blow its top”.

The goals of this presentation are to introduce the various types of volcanoes on our planet and discuss the various hazards to human life and economics that they impose.  For example, are you safer living on a volcanic island in Hawaii or in southern Italy?  Why do volcanoes in different parts of the world present different hazards, and what factors determine volcanic hazards?  Do we need to worry just about volcanic eruptions, or are there other ill-defined hazards associated with active volcanoes that need to be monitored?  We can minimize the potential effects of volcanic eruptions, but in many cases this can be achieved only through significant changes in lifestyle.  Minimization of volcanic hazards will only be attained through public education.

Speaker’s Profile:

Brian Cousens grew up in Montreal and received his B.Sc. in Geological Sciences from McGill University in 1979.  He then pursued his interest in oceanography at the University of British Columbia, completing an M.Sc. Marine Geology in 1982.  After spending three years as a technician in the Oceanography Department at UBC, Brian traveled south to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1990.  He returned to Canada and took a two-year position at the Université de Montréal, and in 1992 moved to the Earth Sciences department at Carleton University.  Brian’s speciality is seafloor volcanism at mid-ocean ridges, but he has also completed projects at Hawaii, the Canary Islands, French Polynesia, the Japan Sea, eastern and northern California, western Nevada, and several locations in northern Canada.

The Almonte Lectures are geared for eager audiences of all ages and are offered free of charge. (Although a free-will donation is much appreciated and goes toward hall rental and advertising the series.) For further information, please phone Don Wiles at 256-4376. The Almonte Lectures are affiliated with the Mississippi Mills Residents’ Association ( One head can not hold all wisdom.

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