Lecture: Volcanic risk communication: a heart-breaking subject - - still with almost no light at the end of the tunnel

Speaker: Professor Robert Thompson, Emeritus professor of Geology, Durham University

Entry Fee

Members: Free

Visitors: £5.00

Date and Time

19:30 -


Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, 16-18 Queen Square, Bath BA1 2HN

Lecture Description

Trying to persuade residents to escape from their local erupting volcano before it kills them is a frustrating business. In this talk, Prof. Thompson will begin by summarising this depressing tale since Pompeii in 79 AD, the first well-documented example of mass-suicide by otherwise rational people. The latest example happened in October/November 2010 and was the first to “benefit” both from the age of digital images and the attention of the world’s press. Attempting to explain this phenomenon takes us to the strange “Frog in the saucepan” paradox and the events of June 1997 on Montserrat, Lesser Antilles, give us a detailed example of this.

The situation that arose on the island during 2007 shows another potentially lethal problem; local residents become such experienced amateur volcanologists that they can grow to despise and ruthlessly attack any professional who has views that inconvenience them. The current expert predictions expect pyroclastic flows and their deadly accompanying surges to reach routinely to within about 500 meters of occupied houses during the next few years. Therefore, it seems pointless to continue to maintain a total no-go zone around such deposits after they arrive and much better to begin to teach local school children how to avoid danger of severe burns when they inevitably wander down to take a peek at the red-hot deposits.

Finally, the impossibility of detailed fully-effective direct communications between international scientists and the local population are explored by dissecting the ethnicity and religious belief systems of the 5000 or so Montserrat residents. Part of this dissection explores the question of “jumbies”. If you know exactly what jumbies are all about, and how they influence daily life throughout the Caribbean, then you will know what the talk is about. If not, come along and discover!

Location Map

View Larger Map