A Missouri State University Associate Professor of Geology has, for 15 years, studied the Andes Mountains in Chile and the Rio Grande Rift in North America. Gary Michelfelder is a volcanologist who researches magma and volcanoes to better forecast volcanic eruptions in the future.

Photo courtesy of Missouri State University

“It all comes down, really, to public safety and a better understanding of the earth,” according to Michelfelder. “Those are our two main drivers to understand why volcanoes erupt and why they erupt the way that they do – to keep people safe and to better understand these systems so that we can look at those for agriculture problems as well as mineral resources problems. Understanding the public safety helps keep people safe. We can better predict and better forecast what an eruption might look like, what it might do or an area it might affect, and it allows us to keep people out of harm’s way and reduce loss of life, loss of property, loss of industrial products, whatever it is that might be affected by the local area.”

Michelfelder’s work as a volcanologist involves long-term forecasting to try to understand the volcanic systems. Additionally, he looks at what triggers eruptions in the subsurface and why the eruption looks the way that it does. His research helps physical volcanologists, who study the volcanoes on site, to predict when it will erupt.

One of Michelfelder’s favorite parts of research at Missouri State University involves his students.

“I’ve gotten to include them into my research program and I’ve gotten to build them up from being able to go out and be competent geologists and competent scientists that can go onto to graduate school, can go onto the professional world, and represent the scientific community very well and can talk and speak to the community and try to bring some of these topics to different people around the country,” he said.

Michelfelder said that when a major volcano erupts it can affect the entire globe. He stressed importance of knowing how the systems work and why they erupt the way that they do because it can help volcanologists better understand climate change.

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