“The present is the key to the past—in a sense, we’re detectives trying to decipher clues that rocks tell us.” Robert Tilling, volcanologist

One summer in high school I took a geology class at a local college. On the first day of class, the instructor walked in wearing a t-shirt that read “Where were you when Mt. St. Helens blew?”

At the time, living in rural Michigan, the concept of a volcano erupting really didn’t enter my mind very often…ever, actually. But, I did have fleeting memories of the eruption—I was 5 at the time and with grandparents living in Seattle, it was a big deal. They sent me a vial of ash that they scooped from their street on Mercer Island and I was the cool kid in school because I could show my classmates real volcanic ash.

Most students attending Puget Sound today weren’t even born when Mt. St. Helens erupted. So, you may not give much thought to the Cascades mountain range, or the fact that it includes active volcanoes. We may merely think “The mountain is out” when we see Rainier on the horizon.

But volcanologists are employed throughout the state of Washington—many by the U.S. Geological Service. Most are geologists with advanced degrees who specialize in volcanoes but others have undergraduate degrees in other scientific fields like chemistry, mathematics, physics, or engineering.

Careers in volcanology can be boiled down to four major areas:

Physical volcanologists study the processes and deposits of volcanic eruptions, gathering data that helps predict where and how volcanoes are likely to erupt.

Geophysicists study the Earth using gravity, magnetic, electrical, and seismic methods.

Geodesic volcanologists look at how the Earth’s shape changes after a volcano erupts; they study the way the blast and lava flow deform the earth and lead to new and different types of earth formations.

Geochemists collect and analyze the information contained in the liquids, gases, and mineral deposits of rock (including volcanic products).

Interested in learning more about volcanology? Check out the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network for Puget Sound alumni with degrees in the sciences or those working for the U.S. Geological Survey.

CES staff members can help you find additional resources related to careers in volcanology, geology, or any other career area. Stop by to see us in Howarth 101. Visit daily drop-in hours (2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.) or call to make an appointment at 253-879-3161.

Other interesting links:
Volcanoes of the World Webcams
PBS Cool Career in Science: Volcanologist
International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior

© 2011 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photograph: Roger Werth, Daily News