Monday, September 25, 2017

Agung Volcano Unrest Information

- Janine

I am NOT giving my own interpretations of the data and what the data means. I am NOT, and CANNOT tell people what this volcano might or might not do. Please always refer to all official source links below. The utmost respect must be given to the local authorities monitoring Agung.

I am not in Bali, nor am I an authority on Agung Volcano. I have not worked on Agung volcano, or any Indonesian volcano for that matter. Always look to the official sources for information, or to verify any information.

I have been getting a lot of questions from travelers who are in, or planning on being in, Bali. Many travelers don't know where to get official information, cannot read it as it is in Indonesian, and do not, understandably, understand what it means. So, right now I am a volcanology translator to try and get good (official) information out there on the Agung situation so that people can access it.

This page is to direct you to the official information sources and websites that explain the primary volcanic hazards that have been stated to be present at Agung. Scroll down the page for links to the hazard maps. You will need to right click on the Indonesian pages and select 'translate', but be wary as translations can be pretty bad in places. 'Smoke' has so far meant gas/steam, not ash.

Most recent updates to this page (02.10.17)
* Latest updates are shown in black, previous updates are shown in grey *
- MAGMA Indonesia now has a live seismogram online.

- Pyroclastic flow and lahar hazards resource.

- Resource on volcanic ash - now includes information on effects of volcanic ash on children.

- Information on the history of Agung volcano.



Please go to MAGMA Indonesia for the most up-to-date and official information. This is the authoritative source of information and updates on Agung volcano.



PVMPG (through the Tribun Bali) has recommended people be prepared for possible ashfall from Agung volcano.

Resource on volcanic ash
"Volcanic ash consists of tiny jagged pieces of rock and glass. Ash is hard, abrasive, mildly corrosive, conducts electricity when wet, and does not dissolve in water. Ash is spread over broad areas by wind."

PVMPG reminds everyone that eruptions can not be predicted (time, size, etc), and which areas experience ashfall depends on the size of the eruption and the wind direction. Ashfall can reach across the island. The wind direction is currently (28.9.17) to the NW, but this does not rule out ash being directed to the east and south. The direction of an ash plume may be faster and thicker to the NW, while in other directions it may be thinner.

Information on ashfall including health, buildings, power, transportation, agriculture, and cleanup, can be found here: USGS Volcanic Ash Impacts & Mitigation.

Information pamphlets are available in English, Indonesian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Swahili, and Icelandic here: How to prepare and cope with ashfall.

Guidelines for facemasks that have been updated specifically for the unrest of Agung volcano are here: Information on Facemasks

Ash information for children posters are also available at the bottom of this page.

Information on the effects of volcanic ash on children from one previous study:
Forbes L, Jarvis D, Potts J, et al., Volcanic ash and respiratory symptoms in children on the island of Montserrat, British West Indies. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2003;60:207-211.

Please share this information. Some people are printing out the pamphlets to give to those who may not have access to this information. This is a great idea - take care of each other.


Primary source of updated official information: MAGMA Indonesia - there is also a MAGMA Indonesia app (I am not sure if it is available for iphones, I only have an android) where updates are sent to. It is in Indonesian, though, and not easy to translate.

MAGMA Indonesia has now included a live Seismogram.
There is some basic information on how to read seismograms that was put together by IRIS here and a video by USGS here. Please keep in mind that people get entire advanced degrees on seismology and years of experience to fully understand these. You can gain some basic information on these graphs, but don't read too much into it. I will not be posting any of my own interpretations as first of all, I am not an authority monitoring Agung, and secondly, I have no formal education or experience in seismology.

VONA (Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation) reports give notice of the status of the volcano when it changes. It is currently on ORANGE to reflect the high level of activity (not eruption - 28/9/17).

The Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Center provides the same type of information as VONA above.

Kementerian Energi dan Sumber Daya Mineral, Badan Geologi (Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, Geological Agency)

BNPB - Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (National Board for Disaster Management)

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho works for the BNPB and is working to dispel rumors and also posts information on twitter.

The emergency radio station given by BNPB is: 146.800 MHz.


I have been getting a lot of questions along the lines of 'should I cancel my trip to Bali?'

I cannot give advice on what individuals should do - this is absolutely not my place.

However, if you are planning on going to Bali, or are already there, these are some recommendations but this is not a complete list:

- Advice on what to do was published by the Tribun Bali here.

- Check your travel insurance. Does it cover canceled flights or health issues if you end up in a bad situation?

- Check your country's official government travel advice, this should be on a Government or Embassy site. Many have a website dedicated to this and have addressed this situation. Some sites for: USA, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Singapore.

- Check with your airline.

- Be prepared for ash fall. Volcanic ash is sharp pulverized rock, glass, and crystals. It is bad for your eyes, skin, and respiratory systems. Advice on how to prepare (in several languages) can be found here: The International Volcanic Health Hazard Network  This includes what to take with you to keep safe in any ashfall that might occur. 

Supplies such as face masks and eye protection have been periodically running out in Bali so take items like that with you.


The Bali tourism board released an official statement at 18:00 Bali time on 24 September.


Nomor : 956/GIPIBALI-BTB/K-IX/2017

Bali Tourism Board notes the increased frequency of Bali Airport coordination meetings between airline companies and all related airport authorities.

Reported during these airport meetings is the latest satelite image of Mount Agung and so far, as of this afternoon, the image shows no detection of volcanic ash. Intense monitoring continues for the Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation and in coordination with the VA Advisory Darwin, Australia.

Bali Airport, I Gusti Ngurah Rai International, is operating as normal. Airline activities around Bali airspace are still normal with
passengers' arrival departure process maintained and no record of rushed departure of tourists.

Ferries and fast boats between Bali and neighbouring islands of Lombok and Java are also running their typical schedules.

For tour operators and travel agents who receive concerned queries from potential Bali visitors regarding the current situation of Mount Agung may check the latest update on the official website
specific page Crisis Center

On the foothill of Mount Agung, evacuees continue to seek shelter at the designated areas allocated by the government. Basic needs such as food and water are flowing in from all around Bali with volunteers supporting the distribution process.

As Mount Agung evacuees continue to pour onto shelters, Bali Tourism Board is directing assigned tourism professionals to support the coordination of timely delivery of donations from companies to the needy.

Denpasar, 24 September 2017 at 18:00 local Bali time.

Bali Tourism Board

Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana


The phone number below was posted for the Gunung Agung Disaster Relief Headquarters call center. This was posted on 25 September.



See section near the top of the page for ashfall information.

Here is where you can find an interactive map with the danger zones. You can zoom in and make sure you are not in them! Stay out of the danger zones, they are based on where the most dangerous and deadly products that Agung may produce can go.

Interactive hazard map, link above.

If you can't get the interactive map to work, there is a high resolution image of the hazard map (without the current radial exclusion zones indicated) here.

Hazard map without the current radial exclusion zones.

To learn more about the primary hazards - pyroclastic flows and lahars, go to VolFilm's Videos. These videos were specifically made by volcanologists to explain hazards and impacts of pyroclastic flows and lahars. 

Pyroclastic flow and lahar hazards resource


Information on the history of Agung volcano

Two published, peer-reviewed papers on Agung:

A summary of Agung volcano, it's eruption history, and activity summaries are available at the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Report site.

Karen Fontijn has put together a summary of the previous activity at Agung volcano, and what monitoring was available at that time. In case there are issues viewing this, I have pasted the contents at the bottom of this page. This discusses the long history of volcanic eruptions at Gunung Agung, Bali.


Below is a translation of a Tribun Bali interview with Surono. I had a lot of help from Bambang Ardayanto, who did most of the work. This interview is important as it shows the levels of uncertainty the scientists and government officials are dealing with.

When the news regarding volcanoes at Indonesia are going widespread, Mr Surono become one of the people who people are looking for and asking him for his analysis and getting his opinion.

That is understandable since Mr Surono (62) is an expert of volcanology and geophysics in Indonesia. Grandpa Rono, what he is called in Indonesia, was very popular during the Merapi, near Yogyakarta city, eruption in 2010. During that time, he was the Chief of PVMBG (Pusat Vulkanologi dan Mitigasi Bencana Geologi) or Center of Volcanology and Mitigation of Geology Disaster.

Mr Rono, a graduate of University of Savoei, Chambery, France, was on Sunday (24/9/2017) in Bali, and accompanied the team from the Ministry of Maritime Coordination even visiting refugees at the camp at Tanah Ampo, Karangasem.

During his visit, Tribune Bali interviewed Mr Rono regarding the increase of Mt Agung activity.The translation of his interview is as follows:

Tribun Bali (TB):

If Mt Agung erupts, how powerful might the explosion be according to your opinion?

Surono (S):

If we refer to the 1963 eruption, it could be same. But it can also differ. Maybe lower, maybe greater or maybe no explosion?

TB: Why might there be no explosion?

S: Because we cannot rely on the tremor frequency only. If there is frequent tremor and all of the gas is released from the magma, it will not produce an explosion. We can't predict based on tremor activity and then make an explosion or eruption power prediction. Tremors or volcanic earthquakes are a sign of the high level of volcanic activity. This level of activity can't be used as a reference to predict a big eruption, even if the level of volcanic earthquakes and volcano activity inside the crater increases.

TB: from the monitoring signals of the activity at Mt Agung that you have observed, can we conclude if and when Mt Agung will explode or erupt?

S: No, we cannot. It should be understood that warning alert levels like Warning (Awas - the current level), Watch, Advisory, or Normal, are not to predict when the big eruption will come and how powerful the eruption will be. Although the volcano activity is increasing, people cannot judge if it will lead to an actual eruption. So, if the magma starts rising up, does it mean the eruption will occur? No. We don't know.

TB: It may have no eruption, can you explain?

S: It may only produce lava. It is like an eruption but not an explosion.

TB: if there is an explosion, what are the impact levels?

S: At least the direct impacts should not pass the radius of 9 km and the extended sector 12 km from the mountain. This zone has been announced by the government.

So the people within this dangerous area must be evacuated. Don't make assumptions, because if we make a wrong assumption, it is real mistake, and if you're right maybe it’s only just luck.

The next page;

TB: Compared to the Agung eruption of 1963, it was stated that the power of the eruption was 10 times higher than the Mt Merapi eruption in 2010. Is this right? What is the probability of the eruption power of Mt Agung if it erupts or explodes?

S: It may higher than Merapi, it may lower, or it might not erupt at all. Look at Merapi, it can have larger eruptions than before. If Mt Agung explodes like it did before, the people removed from exclusion zone within 9 km to 12 km from the mountain will be safe. If people have moved according to the recommendations they should be safe.

TB: How hot in degrees Celsius can the magma and the lava that move up Mt Agung get?

S: It may around 1000 to 1300 degrees Celsius for the molten lava. It will move and then cool to a lower temperature.

TB: about Mt Agung, what is the magma composed of?

S: About the same as at other volcanoes, Sulphur, CO2, Silica etc.

TB: What about the gas inside the magma?

S: If we talk about gas, most any volcano has this. Because of the change from the hot temperature to lower or cooler, the yield of this process is gas output. Magma mixed with Sulphur gas, CO2 and others.



A long history of volcanic eruptions at Gunung Agung, Bali

Karen Fontijn
, Post-Doctoral Research Associate
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford
Email, Twitter: @VolcKaren

Recent signs of activity at Mt Agung, a volcano in Eastern Bali, are causing lots of concern to local populations and authorities, as well as tourists visiting the Indonesian island. This briefing note is intended to provide an objective summary of what we know about the volcano’s past history, and is based on scientific studies that have been published in international scientific journals.

Up until September 2017, Agung volcano was most famously known in the volcanology community for its 1963 eruption. This was a large explosive event, which caused more than 1100 fatalities among the communities living on the lower slopes of the volcano. The 1963 eruption was preceded by at least a few days of felt earthquakes before a lava flow was erupted from the summit crater, flowing down the northern flank of the volcano. This was then followed by a few weeks of minor explosive activity in the crater, after which an explosive eruption column sent large amounts of volcanic ash (small particle of rock debris) and gases more than 15 km up into the atmosphere. Another similar large explosive eruption followed two months later. Some of the volcanic ash fell back down to the northwest of the volcano and buried crops and roofs under a layer up to 50 cm thick. The eruption also caused hot mixtures of volcanic gases and rock debris (pyroclastic flows) to travel down the slopes of the volcano. Some of these pyroclastic flows turned into devastating mudflows (lahars) further down. It is these pyroclastic flows and lahars which caused most of the fatalities in 1963.

There was only little or even no instrumental monitoring done in 1963 – in those days the methods were not yet developed as they are today, and even volcanology as a science hardly existed. In the last few decades we have learnt a lot about how volcanoes work and our capacity to monitor volcanoes using a range of instruments has improved significantly. Today Indonesian and international volcanologists are using all this combined knowledge that we have acquired from studying volcanoes around the world to interpret the signs of unrest at Agung, and inform emergency managers. The hazard maps and evacuation zones that are currently in place around the volcano are largely based on what we know from Agung’s past eruptions, including the 1963 event.

The eruptive history of Agung was pieced together by studying the volcanic rocks that are found all around the volcano. Together with colleagues at the Indonesian Volcanological Survey (CVGHM) and the Earth Observatory of Singapore, we have been able to go 5000 years back in time and identify the typical style of activity at the volcano. Underneath the volcanic ash layer from the 1963 eruption, we find another 51 such ash layers from older volcanic eruptions. The oldest ash layer we found was about 5000 years old – we determined this age using radiocarbon dating. So that basically tells us that the volcano – on average – erupts about once every century. By comparing the thickness of the ash layers from the older eruptions with that of the 1963 eruption, we find that some eruptions were probably a bit smaller than 1963, others were of similar size. Everywhere in the valleys to the north-northeast and southwest-southeast we find rocks that were emplaced by pyroclastic flows and lahars, including in 1963, but also before that. This means that these same valleys are prone to similar phenomena in the future. Finally we also find a lot of lava flows on the upper slopes of the volcano. All this information together tells us that Agung has a repeated history of volcanic eruptions that are very similar in style to the 1963 eruption. We cannot know for sure whether every Agung eruption is always associated with volcanic ash fallout and pyroclastic flows and lahars and lava flows, but it is likely.

A large team of volcanologists will continue monitoring the situation and provide official updates on the activity on

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Come see us at IAVCEI2017!

- Janine and Alison

Conferences mean many things. We get to see our co-blogger in person, go on field trips where we learn about new volcanoes from the people who have studied them, attend workshops and panels, make new friends, and race from talk to poster sessions to take in as much volcano science as we can.

The International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI) 2017 conference is being held in Portland Oregon this August. The theme is 'Fostering Integrative Studies of Volcanism'. The conference will be attended by more than 1,000 volcanologists from around the world and many will be sharing their experience on Twitter using the hashtag #IAVCEI2017. This year we are both going on field trips and presenting some of our recent research at this conference so there will be a lot of conference to share.

Janine will be presenting her work on the Shiveluch dome collapse events and block-and-ash flow (BAF) deposits, and how the link together. These BAFs are some of the largest historical events on Earth! Shiveluch has been producing BAFs since 2001 (in the current eruption cycle), after a Mount St. Helens-style flank collapse (minus the lateral blast) removed a portion of the volcano in 1964. This talk will be discussing the distributions of the dome collapse events (it's a big dome!) and the deposits that result from them. This gives insight into how deposits are distributed through a long-lived dome-building eruption.

Presentation time: Friday 2:30 - 2:45
Room: A107-109
Session: PE52A: III.9 Understanding pyroclastic density currents through analysis of their deposits II, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Alison will be giving both a talk and a poster. Monday morning Alison is giving an invited talk in a session called "Volcanism and Magmatism under Water or Ice.” The presentation will focus on Askja volcano, in central Iceland, which is just north of the Vatnajokull ice sheet (and just north of the Holuhraun eruption site from 2014-2015). Askja is of interest because it grew during the last glacial period when the ice sheet was much larger and produced a large volume of explosive and effusive deposits that interacted with the the ice. We can learn about the mechanisms of these glaciovolcanic eruptions and the thickness /  location of the ice by mapping these deposits. 

Presentation time: Monday 12:15-12:30
Room: A105
Session: ME11A: 11.6 Volcanism and magmatism under water or ice I, 11:00 AM-1:00 PM

Alison is also giving a poster that relates her experimental work and natural volcanic deposits. The transport and deposition of material out of a crater by discrete explosions produced by magma and water interacting underground results in distinctive depositional textures and sequences. The poster looks at two type examples and then expands the observations to previously published deposit descriptions.
Presentation time: Thursday August 17, 4:00-6:00
Room: Exhibit Hall A
Session VH43B: V.4 Just add water: hazards variation in lava flows, steam-driving and hydromagmatic explosive eruptions, Posters, 4:00 PM -6:00 PM

Also Alison's masters student Cody Nichols will be giving a talk on his work looking at the relationship between the shape of maar craters (produced by those subsurface explosions mentioned above) and the regional stress regime. 

Presentation time: Monday 2:45-3:00 pm 
Room: A106
Session: PE12A: III.5 Processes leading to monogenetic volcanism II, 2:30 PM-4:30 PM

We will both do our best to tweet some of the conference, including our field trips to Mount St. Helen's, Mount Hood, the Sand Mountain volcanic field, Mount Bachelor, and Crater Lake. Conferences are a combination of a lot of work, not enough time, and awesome.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Learning to map while also respecting the land


The scale of geologic history is not just spread over a larger time span than many of us are used to thinking about, but also a larger physical scale. To help train future geologists to be comfortable with these large scales, and three dimensional challenges of our planet's history, we take students out into the field and make them map, the old fashioned way, by hand. I went with the UMKC field camp this June to learn about the places and projects that we use to train our geology majors as I will likely take over leading the camp in the future.

UMKC field camp students putting boots on rocks and pencils to paper to gain experience making geologic maps in South Dakota.

For many people the idea of making a map seems outdated. People hear words like map and geography and assume that it is all done, and they only have to worry about changing country boundaries. Maps, however, are a means of conveying information in a spatial way, that doesn't just include geopolitical boundaries and bodies of water. For a geologist mapping is still a critical step in unraveling any geologic problem. It is important to understand the types and distribution of different rock types, how they change with distance and contact each other. Maps are one of the first steps to figuring out how to get more of a resource such as oil, metals, or coal. We can map what is exposed on the surface, and what is underground. We can map what is on Earth and other planets. While there are many amazing maps already in existence around the world, we frequently find new questions that are at a different scale of interest, or need data that the previous maps didn't include. 

Geology is wonderfully messy and one of the best ways to start thinking about how the Earth changes over time is to go visit some messy rocks, like these tilted strata near Buffalo Wyoming.

This simplified geologic map of the state of Missouri shows the major rock types. The county lines are drawn to help the reader figure out where they are, but the important information is all in the colors. The red and blue spots in the south east are where all the cool volcanic rocks are. From Wikimedia Commons with data from the Missouri Spatial Data Information Service.

We can also use maps to identify and measure change in an area or to show what change has happened in the past. If you want to understand a hazard in a given area you must know when and how often an event happened. The state of California has what is called a landslide inventory which was produced using data from decades of mapping. Geologists can also reconstruct the rocks as they were before the event (landslide, earthquake etc.) and then figure out what changed, by how much and when.

Earthquake Lake Montana was formed in 1959 when an earthquake produced a landslide that dammed the Madison River. The drowned trees still stand as a testament to the changing landscape. We visited to help the students identify the evidence for the event in the geology and vegetation. We also got to see bald eagles and beavers making their homes here.
Maps are also a means of communicating information, not just recording information. For volcanoes we frequently map the extent of deposits from past eruptions. For instance, how far did ash travel away from the vent. We can also make a map that shows thickness of that ash, or where the largest blocks from that same eruption landed. One of the most distinctive maps for volcanoes are hazard maps, which exist to show what areas are likely to be affected by different hazards during a future eruption. This is also done for floods, landslides and tsunamis.

This hazard map of Mt. Hood from the USGS was made to communicate where the main hazards from a future eruption are likely to affect the area surrounding Mt. Hood. Note how the lahars follow valleys and go well beyond the slopes of the mountain. The amount and type of information on the map will vary depending on the purpose of the map.

Students at field camp learn to find themselves on the map using topography (not as easy as it sounds when you first start), how to recognize different rock layers (even when they get messed up by faults, erosion, and volcanic events), and how to communicate what they observed. All these skills are introduced during course work, but it is really out in the field, with real messy rocks, that students finally get a chance to test and hone their skills.
Several of my undergraduate research students at field camp looking epic with Bear Butte in the background, June 2017. This shot was only 1/3 posed.
There is also another less obvious lesson that students get in field camp, they learn about the land in more human terms. Field geologists get to travel to many awesome places. One of the aspects of that field work is getting permission to access land, to climb fences, collect samples and take photographs. Geologist in the USA work on federal land, state land, private land, and American Indian Reservations. Many times this land changes designation over time. Respecting modern and historic designations is important for the preservation of the land and respect of the residents and other users of that land. Land is important to many people for different reasons and it is important to not forget that in light of our own immediate motives, even in the name of education.

National parks, like the Badlands featured here, are an important resource to experience the diverse geology of the US and other countries. It is important to pay attention to the expectations for visitors when enjoying these spaces so that they are preserved for future visitors.

This means leaving your hammer behind if necessary, sticking to trails in designated areas, and carrying permits with you all depending on the regulations of the location where you are working. It is also important to acknowledge the ancestral lands that geologist get to work on. They may now have federal or private designations, but these beautiful places that I revere for their geologic wonders have significance beyond as a spot for training future geologists.

Our field camp spends a significant amount of time working the traditional territories of the Lakota Nation. The Lakota are one of seven related Sioux Tribes that have ancestral territories across the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. We visited several important sites around the Black Hills including Wind Cave, Devil's Tower, and Bear Butte.
Devil's Tower South Dakota. Lakota, Arapahoe, Chyenne, Crow, Shoshone, and Kiowa people still visit and leave tobacco pouches and prayer offerings on the mountain honoring the spiritual significance of this site.
There are many peoples who value natural landmarks and it is important to remember that they are significant beyond our own appreciation. This plaque in the National Monument Visitor's center shows many of the names for Devil's Tower.

Devil's Tower significance to me is in its excellent columnar cooling cracks (when hot rock cools it contracts and if cooled slowly will form regular cracks) and it is a place I've wanted to see since I was a child (and first tried to make it out of mashed potatoes ala Richard Dreyfus). There are many Native oral histories explaining these marks, but they typically involve a bear (see names) scratching the side of the rock to produce its distinctive shape. In some narratives the bear wandered east to lie down and form Bear Butte near Rapid City. These landmarks are part of a larger landscape and a larger history than we see day to day. It is the job of geologists to look at how the landscape connects geologically, but I am glad we get the opportunity to see it from many other important perspectives as well.
Bear Butte in Western South Dakota. The Butte viewed from the south doesn't resemble a bear so much, but since that is where we mapped I never got a photo from the west to illustrate it.
Wind cave is also important to the Lakota and Cheyenne as it is a key location in the creation story of the people of the plains. It is home to most of the world's box work, and was the first cave ever to be preserved as a national park. That is a lot of things for something as fragile as a cave to be.
Box work is unlike stalactites and stalagmites that most people associate with caves because it forms in the dissolution of the limestone, rather than growing with time. This means these features, once damaged, are gone. The bulk of the world's discovered box work occurs in this one cave system! The beauty and fragility makes preserving these features a challenge.
I'm likely to take over field camp next year, and the prospect is daunting, but exciting (oh the logistics...). Field camp is an important opportunity for students to really become immersed in geology and grow as scientists and as people. It can be challenging, uncomfortable (heat, learning to avoid snakes, high elevations), and fun. I still remember my own field camp and the confident realization that I wanted to do this, learn about our planet, for the rest of my life. I look forward to continuing to work with students in amazing places like these and learning more about the geology, and the human history of these landscapes each year.

Want to see some awesome maps?
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a lot of maps available online, including Geologic Maps. Same with the British Geological Survey (BGS). Make sure to check out your local geological survey at national and state / province level for what is available on the area you live in.
Want to recognize the ancestral history of the land you are living / working on? 
While I don't have just one weblink to provide for this, a bit of internet research usually reveals what you are looking for. If you don't know where to start, look by region or for nearby major landmarks. There are usually multiple resources to track down the ancestral and historical claims on your field area.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Family 'or' career?? Doing both in the geosciences

- Janine

How many times are women told 'family or career'? How many times have we heard about women being treated differently because they have, or want to have, a family? We have heard that it's even a career killer. If we have kids - your career will suffer. Your kids will suffer. You will basically fail at everything. This is the message I have seen over and over again. I have a couple of issues with this. Firstly - I see women succeed at both. Secondly - I see plenty of Dads raising kids and having a career too! The old saying is that 'it takes a village to raise a child', so why do we have the stigma that women are the only ones affected by raising kids, and that it poorly affects their work?

When I started discussing putting this post together I got the reply: "I know :(  I have a brilliant chemist friend & she was in tears when she told me she won't pursue a future in academia as she wants children". We need to start shining a light on the other side of parenting - the side that would allow this chemist to believe that she has a choice. One of the things that surprised me was that a side effect of parenting can be an increase in productivity - they are forced to be more focused. Where are the stories like that? Would parents (especially women) be viewed as less successful if we all shared this side too?

I don't have kids. I see the articles out there about how hard it is. I hear parents saying that it's tough, but I also hear them saying how great it is, in fact, face-to-face, these outnumber the tough stories. Here, I hope to shine a positive and empowering light on parents and caregivers, both to show that they can manage both quite well (thank you!), and to give those who do not yet have a family hope using the words of the parents who have made it work.

I don't pretend here that it isn't hard - having just completed my Ph.D., I want to sarcastically ask 'what isn't??'. We come across challenges in life all the time, and we can overcome them. This is certainly a different kind of challenge, a long-term challenge that isn't just about you. If you want to learn more about how hard it is - go to Google. If you want to help change this stigma around parents in science/academia/careers - keep reading.

This blog is for the parents out there making it work, the parents out there who are struggling, the people out there who want to have kids one day, and all of you who judge anyone who has a family (or has even thought about it) as no longer good enough. There are always two sides to a story, and I am over hearing about the limiting side. Let's empower each other to take on these challenges.

Susan Hough

Mom, grandma; geophysicist with USGS; occasional science writer
From: USA (we moved around a lot when I was a kid)
Current home base: Pasadena, California

I have three great adult children, now 26-33, and three amazing grandsons, the eldest of whom is now 5. I've been at the USGS for 25 years now. My work focuses on research on earthquakes and earthquake hazard, and in recent years on international capacity-building projects. The work-life balance thing was, of course, harder when my children were small. My husband and I chose to start a family early in our careers, when we were both still in grad school. My husband is a biochemist who started grad school at the same time I did. So the balance issues affected us both. Our daughter was born at the end of my 2nd year of a PhD program at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and our first son was born a few months before I defended my PhD. For any parents with outside jobs, there are never enough hours in the day. You make the best with what you've got. The big challenge, apart from having so much on our plates, was financial: facing expensive childcare costs when we were living on graduate stipends. But there were up-sides as well. Flexibility was one huge plus: as grad students we were able to shift our hours so that we only needed halftime childcare for the first 2-3 years. As grad students we were also part of a student community, with quality home-based childcare available nearby. The faculty at Scripps were terrific; I was fortunate in this regard, especially back in the 1980s. The second up-side was something I didn't appreciate until later: having children earlier meant being freed up from the intense early parenting demands earlier. So travel was difficult early in my career, but by the time I started to have more mid-career opportunities to attend international meetings and lead international programs, I was more free to pursue them. A finally up-side was revealed to me 5 years ago: grandchildren! Being a grandparent is the best role a person can have: all of the joys of parenting without the overwhelming responsibilities. Being a young parent means I get to be a young grandparent for (hopefully!) a lot of years. It's actually still a struggle: I wish I could spend even more time with them. But I relish having the energy, time, and resources to be an important influence in their lives. I also love the place that I'm at professionally, being heavily involved with both research and international capacity building projects.

It's disheartening, that there hasn't been more progress with work/life balance issues over the past 30 years. Maybe awareness/acceptance is better, but if anything the demands of a science career have gotten worse. There are only so many hours in a day; taking on two full-time jobs is tough. I came of age during the "women can have it all" era. I think it was true then and is still true today. But nobody ever said it would be easy.

Dr. Wendy Bohon
Mom, science communicator and educator at Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology  

I have a PhD in Geology (I study earthquakes) and I now work as a science communicator and educator at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. I also run a small, independent social media business and have a blog about parenting twins. My husband and I have 3 kids – a 12-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twin boys. Having a full time job and a full time family can be difficult but I work for a great company that gives me flexible working hours and allows me to telework a few days a week. These small allowances on their part vastly improve my life and allow me to be a better scientist, employee and mother. I’m thankful that I work for an organization that values and supports a healthy work/life balance, and I believe that I’m proof that these types of family friendly policies work, and help parents to be happier, healthier and more productive. I want to advocate for more organizations to adopt policies that give their employees the flexibility to be successful at their careers and to manage their family lives – that shouldn’t be an either/or situation. We need the best and the brightest minds in geoscience working on hard science problems AND raising the next generation of innovators, creators and problem solvers.

Cara Burberry
Mom, Assistant Professor

I'm Cara Burberry, tweet as @DeformationRox. I'm a mum and an assistant professor who just went up for tenure (eek). I live in Odell, NE and work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 65 miles away. I have a long commute!

I’m a mum of two boys, aged 6 and 3. I’m also an assistant professor at UNL in geology, looking specifically at the processes that affect mountain belt formation. I spend a lot of time in my laboratory building mountain belts out of sand in order to investigate this. The best part of my day, despite the commute, is getting home and being tackled by two flying little boys yelling “Mama! Mama! Mama!” It’s become a kind of game – how far can I get into the house before the babies hear me? As soon as they notice that Mama is home, they race to me to get a snuggle. There’s nothing quite like little arms around your neck, usually the owner of those arms is still squeaking “Mama! Mama! Mama!” The next request is either “what’s for dinner” or “can we do a pwoject [sic]?” A “pwoject” is a science experiment – a ring of skittles around a pool of water and watching the colors bleed off… the red cabbage indicator experiment… you name it. Both boys have come with me in the field; 3 has collected fracture data across KS and 6 has collected fracture data in MT. Fieldwork with littles worked for me when they were small and stayed in the carrier. I’ve got a few colleagues who also have littles and we cover for each other when one of us has a sick kid and needs to remain at home. Maternity leave isn’t great, but I was able to stop the tenure clock for a year each time I was pregnant, so I’m going up for tenure now, with a much stronger portfolio than I would have had without the stoppage. I had to ask for it, it wasn’t offered; parents: Know Your Rights and ask for them!

Shari Gallop 
Mum of two and Lecturer in coastal geoscience and oceanography 
Shari's Webpage
Country of origin: New Zealand
Current location: Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

My husband and I are parents to two wonderful kids (3 years and 2 months) and live in Sydney, Australia. I am a lecturer in coastal geoscience and oceanography at Macquarie University, where I spend half of my time on research and half teaching. I focus on how coastal morphology responds to drivers on multiple scales, such as during storms and to climate change. Some lessons I have learned so far about having my career in academia and kids:

(1) ‘Success’ is defined differently by different people. It’s easy to get pulled into the trap of comparison and judgement. But, we can define our own career success. For me, it’s no longer ‘doing the most stuff’. Mine is defined by enjoying my work; publishing high quality science with people I enjoy; encouraging others; and still having lots of time for life outside of work.

(2) Longer hours doesn’t mean more output. I choose to work no more than 38 hour weeks. This decision has driven me to find ways to be more efficient with my time. I am getting better at saying no, prioritizing, and focusing my time and energy.

(3) Choose your own career path. At least in academia, we actually have a large amount of freedom (even though it might not feel like it at times) in that we can largely choose how we spend our days; what we work on; how we do it and who with. Get creative! Choose your path or others will choose it for you.

For me, becoming a mother has actually made me enjoy my career even more, in that it gives me perspective on what’s important, and has forced me to make some positive decisions about my approach to how I spend my time and energy.

Ryan Watkins
New mother, lunar scientist
Country of origin: United States
Current work place: Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, MO), and Planetary Science Institute

I am a postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) and an associate research scientist with the Planetary Science Institute (PSI). I research the reflectance properties of the surface of the Moon and I conduct various landing site safety studies future missions. I have one daughter, who is 2 months old and who has a nursery decorated in rocket ships, stars, and moons.

My advisor at WashU has been supportive of my decision to be a working mom from the minute he learned I was pregnant. He has encouraged me to enjoy every minute with her and has given me the flexibility to work from home when I need to. I attended a conference at 8 months pregnant, and everyone there was very supportive.

I chose to work at PSI largely because of the opportunity to work remotely and because they highly value family. PSI is incredibly supportive of working mothers, enough so that they've asked me to bring my baby to our annual company retreat! They even pay for childcare for employees who bring their children to the retreat. A group of employees started up a "Family Chat" group, where we hold telecons every other week or so and discuss a topic relevant to raising children and/or balancing work and family. My position at PSI allows me to work from home, so I am able to spend time with my baby girl but still do research. Our plan is to have her in a daycare 3 days a week so I can work in my office at WashU, and then I will work from home with her the other 2 days.

I don't identify solely as a mom, a wife, or a scientist, and I have always known I would go back to work after having children because my work is a large part of who I am. Being able to do both, and having the support from my company and my colleagues to do both, is truly rewarding.

Adam Kent
Professor: ICP Lab director, Dad, Husband, sometime reluctant dog walker  
Home: Corvallis, Oregon USA (Oregon State University)

 I have been at Oregon State University since 2002, as has my wife, and in October 2003 my son was born. My wife is also a Professor (and an associate Dean for the last few years too). We have both had to work hard at raising a family and being successful as academics. This means things like a clearly defined kind riding and pickup and drop off schedule, flexibility with each others travel schedules, and above all making time for family first. We have also had a great support network of friends - mostly other academics - with kids who periodically get together and let the kids go wild while we eat fancy cheese and have erudite conversations. Corvallis is a great town for a family, beach and mountains are nearby, and there is a plethora of parks and bike paths etc. I personally would not have had it any other way than to have a family. Can you have a career and a family? In my experience I’d say yes, but it helps to have supportive partners, a supportive group of colleagues and a strong friend network.

Natasha Dowey
Mum and Lead Geoscientist in oil and gas industry 

I’m geologist in the oil and gas industry with a love of volcanoes, and my husband is a post-doctoral researcher in mudstones. We’re parents to a crazy toddler who loves pebbles.

Mixing science careers and parenting is a daunting prospect- frankly, I was terrified. And yes, it can be very challenging; your life is turned on its head and you have to find a new normal (that involves being exhausted 99.96% of the time!)

Aside from the obvious rewards of parenthood (e.g having a person genetically programmed to laugh at your jokes), there are a few really positive things about continuing with science as a parent.

  • Perspective- I am incredibly passionate about my work, and easily get caught up in it. Clichéd as it is, having a kid has given a new significance to my personal life, and I feel more balanced.
  • Drive- I have become more ambitious, but in a different way to before; I want to do great things in science, for her- to inspire her, and to make her proud of my achievements. I’ve become more passionate about outreach and encouraging women into STEM.
  • Efficiency- I've become an expert juggler, and am more efficient at work than before- working late is simply no longer an option, so it’s full steam ahead during work hours!
  • Bravery- Negotiating new contracts with employers can be worrying- what will happen to my career if I cut my hours? But we don’t have parents nearby to help with childcare, so we had to take that chance and reduce our working hours. It’s the best decision we ever made- I get a lot achieved at work in 4 days (see Efficiency above!) and also get extra time with my daughter. 

Patrick Dowey

I’m a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manchester, UK. My research is primarily looking at how mudstones form and what their properties are.

Trying to develop an academic career and juggle an 18 month old toddler can be challenging. My wife and I both work, so the baby is in nursery three days a week and we each spend one day a week with her. I worked full-time during my wife’s maternity leave, and I did feel like I was missing out on some really important times with the baby during this period. When my wife went back to work, moving to four days a week seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to spend more time with my daughter. I have a very good relationship with my line-manager and the University supports flexible working for its employees. When I approached my line-manager he was very supportive, and the administrative staff within my School have also been very good.

It’s great having an extra day a week with my daughter. I feel like we have a much stronger bond than we otherwise would have, and I am less worried about not spending time with her on other days as I know we have quality time together. It has also given me much more focus on my days in work. I have plenty of time in the lab, undertake teaching and administrative responsibilities and I am still getting papers published. So although at times it is hard, having childcare responsibilities and being a researcher seems to be possible! 

Christopher Jackson   
Dad, geologist, and university professor. In that order, more-or-less...
Imperial College, London, England, UK
Christophers website
I have been married for nine years and have three daughters (Olive, 5, Hazel, 4, and Nora, 10 months). People think I’m blessed. Or cursed. I am a ‘Full Professor’ (to use US tenure-track parlance) at Imperial College, London, UK where I work as a geologist as part of the Basins Research Group (BRG). I am interested in how sedimentary basins work in terms of their structure and stratigraphy; I have much to learn.

Managing family and work is challenging, but hugely rewarding, although at times you have to accept that you might not being doing both as well as you can. We had all three of our daughters whilst I was at employed at Imperial College. This gave my family and I a degree of stability, financial and otherwise; however, I am a firm believer there is no optimal time to have children. Even though we may crave it as scientists, I don’t think are any equations to help guide this decision. The head, heart, and chance work in strange ways.

Having a family allows you to switch-off from work. Often forcibly so. Kids don’t care about grant deadlines, tenure packets, or conference talk preparation. Having said that, switching-off from work doesn’t require children; I run and cycle a lot, and both give me a massive escape from work. And the family, at times.

I’m typing this from a café in Chiswick, west London. Personally, if handled in the correct way, flexibility is great. For example, I took last Friday off to go camping, meaning I had to work a few late nights this last week. My superiors help by being relaxed and treating my colleagues and me like we’re self-employed. Obviously, such flexibility can have major drawback in terms of its impact of mental and physical health, principally related to a clear separation between work and home. My wife, Vicki, and my three kids also hugely understand my work- and family-related pressures; without their understanding, a lot of things I want to do wouldn’t get done. Balancing work and like is sometimes hard, as mental and physical time away from family isn’t nice for anyone. However, I love it and it makes me happy, which means I’m happy at home...

People seem to think I have accomplished quite a bit in my career...but that rather depends on how you define ‘accomplish’ and ‘career’...

Anything else you think would help to spread a better message about this topic? Stay awesome. Be nice.

Ásdís Benediktsdóttir
Mom (Married with two wonderful daughters 3 and 5 years old), Currently the final work for my Ph.D. is underway; I hold a full time position at Iceland Geosurvey as a geophysicist.
Country: Iceland

My story and how I combine family and work:

In Iceland we get a paid parental leave. When I had my daughters I got 3 months, my husband 3 months and then we got 3months together, which we could split as we wanted.

I had both of them during my Ph.D., which I started in 2011. My supervisor took the news of my pregnancies very well and was supportive all along. I think that with out his attitude, I might have delayed the 2nd pregnancy until I was done, so his attitude meant a lot to me (thanks Freysteinn!).

I took 6 months of leave with the two of them, and my husband 3 months, so at the age of 9-10 months they went to daycare, which is paid partly by the state. So, they have, since an early age, spent 7-8 hours a day in daycare. These have been wonderful places and our girls have been very happy there.

This is very common in Iceland, that children start daycare at an early age, with two working parents. This, combined with the attitude of my advisor (and the general attitude toward students taking parental leave during their studies) made it easier to have children during my studies.

Now, I am trying to wrap up my Ph.D. while holding a 100% job and running a household of 4! The load of the work around the house and the care of the girls after daycare is split between the two of us. My husband does not "help me" around the house, rather it is we who help each other. There are times when he has to be in office for long hours, so I get the girls from daycare, making my work day closer to 7 hrs than 8, and vice versa. Thus we communicate a lot about our work schedules and try to organize the picking up and dropping of to day care as well as we can. During the evenings (after laundry, dinner and bath) we have some time to sit down and catch up on work (or just watch tv :)). Our house is never 100 % clean; if it were I would not try to hold a 100% job. I try to put in hours on my thesis or finish whatever work I had left during the day during the evenings. All in all this works and we are doing just fine BUT we need to be supportive of each other.

Then there are the grandparents. We both have our parents around and are so fortunate that they like to spend time with their grand-children. So, we get an occasional weekday or weekend where the girls spend the night, leaving more room for us to catch up with work or spend time together as a couple!

This may all sound like we don't spend any time with our girls and everything revolves around work. This is surely not the case! We prioritize our lives such that the girls are always number one. I sometimes pick my girls up early so we have some quality time together before bed. Then I catch up on work in the evening. Luckily our employers allow us to go from work here and there during the day to take them to the doctor or to leave early because of occasional day-offs at the day care. What we miss having is time where all four of us are together. It is usually me and the girls or my husband and the girls. Therefore, I don't think I could finish my Ph.D if I were a single parent.

Occasionally either of us goes on a week-long conference trip or a meeting over a weekend and then we cover for one another at home while the other one is away.

So, having family, a job as a geoscientist, semi-clean house and an on-going and stable mental health is possible! It requires a lot of work but this is what we choose, we like the work and we like the family. I am very often tired in the evenings. But happy and tired. I like the happy part :)

Just to emphasize that it is our choice to be both working full-time. I have the option to work part-time for some time and if say the load on me were to much with a full-time job, I'd opt to go that way and I know many people do while having young children. Also, I count myself to be very lucky to actually have a job as a geoscientist, and a job I really like!

We all have choices. We choose how we view other people, we choose the stories we share, and we choose the stigmas we propagate. I have made a choice to try to shift this - remember, I am not a parent - for the sake of people everywhere. When our colleagues suffer, we all suffer. 

Join me. 

Let's choose empowerment, support, and encouragement.

- If you also have an empowering story to share get in touch with me through this blog -