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My life in volcanoes

An image of Dr Joaquin Cortes.

Dr Joaquin Cortes caught the volcano bug growing up in the shadow of one of the most active volcanoes on earth, Villarrica in Chile. He is interested in the thermodynamic processes that lead to the generation of igneous and metamorphic rocks. His research has taken him around the world mapping diverse volcanic terrains in remote environments.

The first volcano I was aware of as a child

Oh yeah, this is a good one. I was born in the south of a country with more than 300 active volcanoes: Chile. From my bedroom window you could see Villarrica volcano, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth.

The volcanic activity that inspires my research

How volcanoes actually work fascinates me. For example, how new magma from the mantle mixes with the magma already cooling down and crystallises in the magma chamber, triggering a volcanic eruption. It sounds simple but it’s actually quite a complicated thing.

An image of Mount Teidi, an active volcano site.

The volcano that most scared me

Rather than scare me, some volcanoes have made me very, very sad. Among these, Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, which completely devastated the town of Armero in 1985, and Fuego in Guatemala, which devastated indigenous settlements in 2018. Every time I teach about these my eyes get a bit wet.

The most beautiful volcano I’ve visited

A difficult question, as I’ve been in too many pretty ones. But I have a strong bias here, and I would stick with Llaima volcano in Chile (again) because it’s also within the amazing national park where BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs show was filmed.

The volcanic eruption I wish I’d seen

Vesuvius, which happened in the year 79 AD on the afternoon of August the 24th, and destroyed nearby settlements like Pompeii and Herculaneum. We know this because a very cool Roman writer named Pliny the Younger wrote a detailed account of the eruption. In his honour, similar eruptions are called “Plinian eruptions”. I didn’t have the chance to see this eruption, but I had the consolation prize of working for the Italian Geological Survey on its volcanic deposits in Pompeii in 2006.

The most powerful volcano

There are a few of what we call super-volcanoes, which from time to time have massive eruptions that change Earth forever. Probably the largest ever recorded is the eruption of Toba volcano in Indonesia about 75,000 years ago.

An image of a group of students, and a lecturer who is discussing a rock they are holding.

The volcano that most fascinates me

My first love. Villarrica volcano always has been and will be my favourite volcano. It features a bubbling lava lake with lava fountaining (Google it) at the summit that tourists can visit… better than the best fireworks.

The volcano I’d recommend my students visit

Teide in Tenerife is a good starting point, a really amazing volcano – but be aware that there is no return from there

 An image of a stone statue on the ground.

The volcano I’d most love to see

There are two volcanoes I really want to visit and I can’t decide which one I’d like to see the most: Mount Fuji in Japan, which is the perfect volcanic shape, and Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania because it has really weird lava – it’s actually white in colour, for a start.

July 13, 2022