Kerry Reid

Kerry Reid

Kerry Reid is a PhD researcher at The Open University, where she investigates the degassing behaviour of Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. You can hear all about her fieldwork stories in Episode 2 of Fieldwork Diaries, and read more about her research career below. You can also find her on Twitter at @Kerry_Reid21.

I’m very fortunate that I was lucky enough to be brought up with the beautiful North Wales as my back drop. From a young age I quickly fell in love with its dramatic landscapes and became eager to learn more about the processes which helped shape this hunk of rock I called home. This curiosity and a love for the outdoors has got me to where I am today, a geographer and PhD student studying volcanology.

Glamorous goat pondering life’s big questions, with the beautiful Llŷn Peninsula Gyrn Goch and Gyrn Ddu mountains as a backdrop.

I started my academic journey in a beautiful Welsh seaside town, Aberystwyth. It seemed a fantastic location for me; mountains, beaches and most importantly … surf! It was here where I studied Physical Geography. Now I often find Physical Geography pretty difficult to define. It is a very broad subject, which is why it appealed to me, looking into the spatial characteristics of the various natural phenomena associated with the Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and lithosphere.

During my time at Aberystwyth I got my first glimpse into the volcanic world and from that point I knew I had to find out more. I filled my boots with as many geology and geohazard modules I could find, but it was one lecture by the fantastic John Grattan about the Laki Eruption of 1783-84 that really inspired my interest. How one eruption could have should widespread implications blew my mind! I was also fortunate enough to head over to New Zealand on fieldwork during my undergraduate. I was actually out studying glaciation on the South Island, but I was fortunate to see some volcanoes along the way which again fuelled my interest.

After a gruelling 3772m night time hike (heavily fuelled by Kendle mint cake!) we reached the top Santa Maria volcano. Our reward? A breath taking bird’s eye view of Santiaguito volcano erupting.

Once my time in Aberystwyth had come to an end it seemed only natural for me to home in on volcanology. It was this that led me to the MSc in Volcanology at Bristol. Here I studied the physical processes of volcanoes, including both sub-surface and surface behaviour, insights into important historical eruptions, understanding of risk and risk mitigation, and instruction and experimental learning on data gathering, handling analysis and presentation. In this whirlwind of a year I was introduced to volcanic hazards in Central America, spending a good chunk of time in Guatemala looking at lava flows (Pacaya), Earthquake damage (Antigua), Pyroclastic flow and lahar deposits (Fuego),ignimbrites (Atitlan) and Vulcanian explosions (Santiaguito). My fieldwork also included visits to three volcano observatories, and the opportunity to work alongside the geological survey (INSIVUMEH) and disaster response centre (CONRED).

Not only do you get to do some fantastic fieldwork as a volcanologist, you also get to meet some really amazing people. Msc Volcanology graduation – because mortar boards didn’t seem appropriate!

I must admit, I found the masters particularly challenging at times, it’s a very intense process and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! But, what I did enjoy was the freedom of research and the unwritten paths in which you can take it. From my time in Central America I knew this was the area I would like to base my research, which is what led me to The Open University and the ongoing citizen science research projects carried out at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua.

Believe it or not there is actually a volcano lurking somewhere behind all that gas!

So, what is it that I do? Well, Masaya is a really interesting volcano. It is what we call in the volcanic world ‘persistently degassing’, meaning is constantly burping out huge volumes of volcanic gas, sometimes at insanely high concentrations (I’m talking 1500 metric tonnes per day- now that’s a whole lot of gas!). The degassing tends to happen in cycles, ranging from a couple of years to decades. The current degassing cycle started in 1993 and continues to present day, which is the time period I am mainly focussing on in my work.

In order for me to get a better understanding as to what controls the degassing activity I need to look at how the volcano is behaving sub-surface using changes in surface height, microgravity and the geochemistry of juvenile volcanic material. This coupled with monitoring and recording volcanic gas emissions at the volcano and downwind in the plume help me to build up a bigger picture as to what is going on.

Citizen science in action! Here we are taking GPS measurements and recording microgravity before we gradually make our decent into the Nindiri crater. Strong toxic gases and mid-day 35°C heat make for challenging working conditions.

It is important for me to monitor emission rates and downwind exposure levels as Masaya releases a cocktail of gases, some of which are toxic. The volcano is located in a very densely populated area of the country, only 35 km away from the capital Managua. Emission rates have reached crises levels in the past, with elevated emission rates triggering profound environmental, social and economic impacts. A key focus of my research is to record exposure levels to toxic volcanic gases in surrounding communities, to help gain learn how the plume spreads and deposits as it travels over the downwind topography.

I hope that my research will allow us to better understand the factors which control the degassing regime, in the hopes to predict future activity at Masaya.

Although Masaya is famous for its degassing activity, it also boasts some fantastic intermittent lava lakes. Here is our view into the crater in March 2016. Probably the most impressive and scariest thing I have ever seen before. Oh, did I mention volcanoes are awesome!

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