Researcher linking earthquakes to volcanoes wins Hatherton Award

University of Canterbury Geological Sciences doctoral candidate Gilles Seropian has received the Hatherton Award for his paper that provides a framework to understand how earthquakes can trigger volcanic eruptions, and has recently defended his PhD thesis.

Royal Society Te Apārangi presents this award to the best scientific paper by a PhD student, at any New Zealand university, studying physical sciences, earth sciences or mathematical and information sciences.

Presented for providing a framework to understand why some volcanoes are more likely to erupt after an earthquake than others, Gilles’ paper – the first review on this topic for 15 years – considers the links between Aotearoa New Zealand’s two biggest hazards: earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Novel in providing a set of easy measurements to help better forecast this reaction, the paper shows that the volcano’s hydrothermal system (the topmost part where water is heated into steam) is particularly sensitive to earthquakes and that an earthquake cannot trigger an eruption unless the volcano is already close to erupting.

The paper starts with a detailed review of the mechanisms via which an earthquake can trigger an eruption. It then provides a classification of volcanoes according to how they may be seismically triggered. The approach is new as the classification naturally arises from the physical mechanisms, as opposed to previous efforts which relied on historical records. The classification highlights that a small number of parameters (three) is sufficient to predict which mechanisms may or may not happen. Gilles’ paper goes a step further and includes earthquakes characteristics in the classification, bridging the gap between the seismological and the volcanological communities.

While this review framework remains mainly theoretical, the classification was built using parameters that are already monitored at active volcanoes, making its real-world application more straightforward. The review also demonstrates the need for transdisciplinary approaches as it used a unique combination of observational, experimental, and theoretical data. In particular, the article highlights gaps in our understanding of both volcanoes and earthquakes and lays the foundation and direction for future research.

The award panel noted that it is a remarkable achievement for a PhD student to get published in prestigious and high-impact journal Nature Communications. They assessed the quality of the writing, research, and implications as exceptional and expect the study to have a large impact on the understanding of these processes for the geological community and beyond.

Gilles received his First-Class Honours degree in Physics from McGill University in Canada before completing his Master’s in Volcanology at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.


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