Melissa Anne Pfeffer (Atmospheric Volcanologist, Icelandic Meteorological Office || Iceland)
“I wanted to work on air quality and air pollution and wanted to be outside as much as possible. So my mentor suggested I go into volcanic air pollution, and that was a great choice! We are currently having a volcanic eruption in Iceland, so I went out today, driving up and down the highway in my car with a light-measuring telescope attached to the roof to measure how much sulfur dioxide is coming out of the eruption. This helps us to predict if an eruption is coming to an end and how bad the health impacts are on local communities.
Iceland has about 32 volcanos, but it depends on which scientists you ask. There are actually very few volcanoes where an eruption happens only in a big cone. Most volcanoes are magmatic systems, and the magma erupts where it has the easiest way to the surface. So what is defined as a volcanic system is different between different scientists. In Iceland, we usually have one eruption every 4–5 years (in Alaska however, there are three volcanoes erupting today!). We did not know where exactly today’s eruption in Iceland was going to occur. In the build-up to the eruption when the magma was still underground, it formed a long magmatic dike. Most likely the eruption would occur somewhere along that dike, but we couldn’t know exactly where. Communities actually got really lucky this time, since the eruption ended up happening in the middle of nowhere! The main hazard from this eruption has been limited to just a few days with poor air quality — important for babies, older people, or people with asthma. Other hazards associated with this eruption are actually choices people have made. A lot of people are in danger of injuring themselves or dying when visiting the eruption and walking on the lava — but luckily no one has died yet!
What I love most about my job is that it’s so beautiful. To see a volcano erupting to me is beauty, beauty, beauty. I find it very invigorating, and I feel so good and so happy when I’m able to see our planet being created.”