Project Overview

Eruptive Mechanisms and the Eruptive Personality of Augustine Volcano, Alaska

Faculty Sponsor

Alison Koleszar (


Earth and Environmental Geosciences


Augustine Volcano in Alaska is one of the most frequently active volcanoes in the US and is considered a very high threat by the U.S. Geological Survey. The hazards posed by a volcano depend on the size and style of an eruption, but what controls these eruption characteristics? This project is a case study of Augustine Volcano to investigate the links between volcano explosivity, magma ascent, and magma composition. 

Students working on this summer project will be studying pumice from three major eruptions at Augustine Volcano in Alaska. These eruptions occurred 400-1000 years ago, as the volcano was undergoing a transition between older, larger eruptions and younger, smaller eruptions. What caused this geologically-recent change in eruptive personality, and what could drive a change back to larger, more violent eruptions? This project aims to investigate the physical processes that occurred prior to, and during, an eruption. We can’t directly measure how quickly magma ascends from a magma chamber and erupts out of a volcano, but we can estimate this by looking at the number and sizes of bubbles and crystals that are trapped in lavas when they erupt and cool. Coupled with information about magma composition and the size of pumice clasts produced at each stage of the eruption, we can piece together what was happening within the volcano in the lead-up to each eruption.

This project may include fieldwork on Augustine Volcano. Augustine is an uninhabited and extremely remote volcanic island located 180 miles from Anchorage. This fieldwork necessitates travel via a small float plane from Homer, Alaska to land in the water on the west side of Augustine. Our field team will then travel by foot (backpacking) across the island to reach our field sites, where we will collect samples and record detailed observations at some of the largest, most recent pumice deposits on Augustine. We will then return to the west side of the island with all of our collected samples to return to Homer via float plane. 

This project will also include a variety of types of lab work (sieving and sorting samples to identify different magma components), geochemical lab work in a clean lab (determining pumice compositions using an ICP-MS instrument),  collecting images on a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), digital image processing (Photoshop, ImageJ, Matlab), and data analysis and interpretation (Excel and R). 

We will have regular communication with scientists at Alaska Volcano Observatory who monitor volcanic hazards at Augustine Volcano and with collaborators from Western Washington University who are working on complementary aspects of this project. Results from this project will help us understand magma ascent and volcano explosivity, both of which have important implications for volcanic hazards at Augustine and at other volcanoes around the world.

Student Qualifications

The Department of Earth and Environmental Geosciences encourages all students interested in summer research opportunities to meet with potential faculty supervisors before submitting their applications.
Students working on this project should be curious and enthusiastic to learn more about how the Earth works, and comfortable learning to use different lab techniques and computer software (training will be provided in all of these tasks). Preferably, students will have taken GEOL 190 and/or GEOL 201 but students with an interest in this project are encouraged to apply even if they have not yet taken these courses.
Participation in fieldwork is not required. Students who have questions about the fieldwork aspect of this project are encouraged to contact me for more information before applying.

Number of Student Researchers

3 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 10/03/2023 and close on 02/28/2024

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (