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VolcTools -- enhancing ease of use and uptake of tools to improve prediction and preparedness of volcanic hazards


Alternative titleVolcTools
StatusNot started


Volcanic eruptions can pose severe hazards to life, livelihoods and infrastructure. Agencies tasked with providing warnings, forecasts, advice and policy to communities and decision makers are required to integrate diverse sources of information to make informed and defensible judgements. The research community is increasingly adopting sophisticated mathematical models of volcanic flows to understand past events and predict future behaviour. Despite the advantages provided by quantitative modelling to hazard assessments and mitigation strategies, very few research models are applied by volcanic hazard agencies due to a lack of capability (agency staff seldom have expertise or formal training in mathematical modelling techniques) and limited capacity to translate research models into usable tools. The aim of this fellowship is to provide new capability to end-users through the development of a suite of web-based volcano hazard modelling tools (VolcTools) that address user priorities identified through engagement with end-users.
The objectives are:

1. To engage directly with users to identify and evaluate their needs with regard to volcanic hazard modelling tools. Engagement with targeted end-users will inform the tool development, ensuring the needs of the users are addressed as a priority. A steering committee of experts in volcanic hazards and representative of the user community will be assembled to evaluate user needs, assess the available research models, and prioritize the development of VolcTools. The steering committee will continue to meet during the project to critically assess tool development.

2. To develop a suite of web-based modelling tools, VolcTools, to provide capability to end-users. The tools will be developed to maximize ease-of-use by employing the latest techniques provided by modern web-programming languages. Users will be guided through the initialization of models and have access to meaningful data produced by the tools.

3. Support user implementation of VolcTools by developing tailored training materials. In consultation with end-users and with advice from the steering committee, training materials will be developed to guide users and to provide long-term support. Online materials can be directly linked to the web-tools providing instant and specific user support. Direct training in the tool use will be provided by visits to user groups.

4. Evaluate the efficacy of the tools in the VolcTools suite and respond to evolving user needs. A programme of periodic structured evaluation of the web-tools and training materials using formal questionnaires will identify potential barriers to usability and ensure that the tools are fit for purpose. Issues identified will be remedied. Continual evaluation will be conducted using monitoring analytics and online feedback.

5. Create an online course in mathematical modelling tailored to long-term user needs. The capacity of end-user organizations will be improved through the provision of training materials in fundamental and applied mathematical modelling to build skills in an essential aspect of quantitative hazard science. By increasing the understanding of the ingredients of mathematical models, and in important topics such as uncertainty quantification, the use of modelling tools by end-users become more robust and reliable with consequent improvements in hazard management.

6. Critically evaluate web-based tools with respect to user needs and report on best practice. The demands placed on models by users during volcanic crises are often the cause of the failure to translate research models into operational tools. The close user-engagement employed in this fellowship provides an opportunity to investigate best-practice in developing operational tools from research. By convening a working group of expert tool developers I will produce a guide to promote further tool development by the research community.

Layman's description

Volcanic eruptions pose a major hazard to life and livelihood. It is well-known that the largest eruptions can have catastrophic impacts and there is an increasing awareness that smaller eruptions that are much more frequent can have a large effect on people, their assets and the economy on a local and regional scale. Events like the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull have shown that countries like the UK that are quite far from volcanoes can still be greatly affected by volcanic activity. The disruption to air traffic in 2010 had very large global economic impact (estimated at US$5bn). In volcanically active regions there are many towns and cities that have grown close to volcanoes and continued urbanization is exposing many more communities to volcanic hazards. Impacts here are more acute, with volcanic flows like lahars (mudflows) and pyroclastic flows presenting severe risk to life, while ash fall can destroy property and ruin livelihoods.

Managing volcanic hazards requires a detailed understanding of volcanic activity and the ability to predict future behaviour. Academic research has demonstrated that mathematical modelling of volcanic processes can greatly assist in the production of robust hazard assessments that can be used by policy-makers, decision-makers and hazard managers to protect people and their livelihoods from volcanic activity. Despite this, relatively few mathematical research models are used when volcanic hazard assessments are made. Scientists in agencies that are tasked with providing advice on volcanic hazards to decision-makers (the targeted end-users of this project) would benefit greatly from access to predictive mathematical models. This knowledge exchange fellowship will provide a suite of user-friendly web-based modelling tools, called VolcTools, allowing users around the world to access state-of-the-art volcanic hazard models from recent cutting-edge research.

Crucially, my project will have a continuous two-way engagement with end-users: I will learn from potential users about their modelling needs and the requirements of tools that would assist their operations; I will provide training to users on the tools that I develop and support their application of the tools; I will gather feedback from users and modify the tools to ensure that VolcTools meets the needs of users. Web-tools provide many advantages to users, such as very few computational requirements so that even very sophisticated and complex mathematical models can be run from mobile devices with the calculations performed remotely on high-performance computers. Users of web-based tools are guaranteed to be using the most up-to-date version, and the model can be easily maintained and upgraded. Modern web-programming allows web-tools to guide users through the set-up of a model and can provide instant, direct support to users. Monitoring of the web-tools is straight-forward and allows detailed user support to be provided.

This fellowship has a strong international user community who will directly contribute to the development of VolcTools. VolcTools will provide volcano hazard managers around the world with new capabilities to use models to enhance their activities with quantitative, evidence-based and robust predictions. Improved preparedness is key to disaster risk reduction. Scientific research, particularly in forecasting future activity and its impacts, is crucial to achieving this and VolcTools will bring the latest research models to volcano hazard managers. The result of better predictions will be improved hazard mitigation strategies and decision-making based on the latest advances in mathematical modelling. This can have a very substantial benefit on the lives of people affected by volcanic activity, through improved hazard preparations, higher confidence in policies and decisions, and less disruption to economic and social activities.

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