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Do you speak volcano? ASU prof working to be fluent, able to predict eruptions.
July 11, 2017

Supported by an NSF early-career grant, Christy Till embarks on 5-year study to take some of the mystery out of eruptions

From Italy to Iceland to Indonesia, volcanoes have been worshipped and venerated for centuries, seen as the abode of angry and capricious gods mollified only by fish, pigs, and holy relics.

It’s human nature to ascribe divinity to mysterious natural processes, and to want to make them go away with a chicken or a lock of hair. No one, even scientists, really knows what the signs of an imminent eruption look like.

On Savo, an island in the Solomon Island archipelago, the local volcano has erupted at least three times in recorded history. The 3,000 inhabitants keep oral traditions of history. They know that when a major eruption is imminent, the crater fills with water, earthquakes and tsunamis occur, and vegetation dies off.

An Arizona State University assistant professor is embarking on a five-year study to take some of the mystery out of volcano eruptions by identifying coming eruptions.

Christy Till, an igneous petrologist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for about $575,000.

Earthquake prediction is extremely fuzzy.

“We’re even a little further behind in volcano studies,” Till said. “We don’t even have early warning systems yet.”

What causes bodies of magma to form? What causes them to erupt? Scientists have notions of what those processes are, but they don’t know where they fit in the time frame of an eruption. Till will search for markers in her study.

“We’re still trying to understand the science,” she said. “What are the events that head up to the eruption, so we can look for them on the surface. ... We have all those clues about how to look at volcanoes, but we don’t know how to decode them very well yet.”

Till will study past eruptions as clues.

“Those have already erupted, and they’ve had the same series of processes happen to them, those marker events that caused them to erupt,” she said. “We want to go and use them to decode that information so we can say, “OK, at this type of volcano this is what happened and this is how long it took. And at that type of volcano this is what happened and how long it took. And we can see how those compare and how similar and different they are if we look at a bunch of volcanoes.”

ASU Assistant Professor Christy Till in her lab
ASU Assistant Professor Christy Till (shown in her lab in Tempe on June 8) is embarking on a five-year study to take some of the mystery out of volcano eruptions, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation's Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

When magma erupts, it’s a combination of hot liquid, solid rock incorporated into the liquid, gases and crystals that formed when the magma was in the subsurface and cooled down.

The crystals have concentric zones in them, like tree rings. And, also like tree rings, they hold a huge amount of information.

“These crystals are time capsules of information and they tell us about the composition of the magma they were growing from, the temperature of the magma,” Till said. “If there was a sudden event in the magma chamber, they recorded that and we can use that to construct the life history of the magma leading up to its eruption when the crystal was erupted onto the surface.”

Volcanoes are somewhat like people. Their stories vary throughout their lives, and they are very different from each other.

“They’re not all the same,” Till said. “Trying to understand why those variations exist and what they mean about the likelihood of an eruption is something we spend a lot of time thinking about.”

The grant will also be used for an education component in science communication.

The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

Fourteen ASU faculty won the award this year. Typically the NSF funds about 350 CAREER faculty each year.

The awards are not aimed at one specific question.

“They’re more of a vision of a direction for you to take your research for the next five years,” Till said. “You’re defining a body of work you’re going to do, not just one project.”

 

Top photo by Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4502

 
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ASU Foundation sets fundraising record, generates more than $220M for university’s programs, services

Support from private donors funds ASU scholarships, public services and more.
July 13, 2017

Record amount of private support follows public launch of Campaign ASU 2020

In the months following the launch of Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive resource-raising effort to sustain and grow Arizona State University’s educational activities, the ASU Foundation has announced the completion of a record year in fundraising for academic programs, research and services at the university.

At the close of the 2017 fiscal year, early estimates show private donors from across Arizona and the world contributed more than $220 million for ASU to enable access and excellence within higher education. The previous record of $215 million was set in fiscal year 2016.

“We’re trying to build something that the university needs going forward, which is a culture of philanthropy,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “All great universities in the United States are built around philanthropy.”

“This strong momentum indicates that our model is working and that our community is growing in its understanding of the value of private support to the university — and of the value of the university in society,” said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr., chief executive officer of ASU Enterprise Partners, the parent organization to the ASU Foundation.

Campaign ASU 2020 focuses on six priorities — student access and excellence, student success, the academic enterprise, discovery, creativity and innovation, our communities and Sun Devil competitiveness — but donors are able to choose from 5,000 specific areas to make an impact. Those areas range from support for faculty developing space instruments for NASA to travel grants for undergraduates at Barrett, The Honors College to bringing Broadway shows to campus at ASU Gammage.

“I believe ASU is a major life force in our community, and I want to do my part to help it thrive,” said Jeremy Meek, Class of ’09, a donor and President’s Club Young Leader. He is one of more than 100,000 individual, corporate and foundation supporters to give to ASU this year.

Though private support is not a replacement for public funding, it provides the margin of excellence that allows scholars’ experiences to transform from good to great.

Around 8,000 students each year receive scholarships — perhaps the best-known category of support — provided by private donors.

Other beneficiaries include the reinvented Sun Devil Stadium; mid-career professionals hoping to transition to teaching; and the student-run, free health-care clinic for the homeless in downtown Phoenix.

One gift made international headlines when it was announced that Charlie and Lois O’Brien, two of the world’s foremost entomologists, would donate their collection of insect specimens and an endowed professorship to maintain them. The gift is valued at $12 million.

“We are so genuinely grateful for our donors,” said ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig. “Because of them, ASU is able to start closing the gap between jobs in Arizona that require a college degree and the number of Arizonans that have one. What’s more, they are genuinely doing good in the world through the research they enable and the programs that help our students who might not otherwise attend or graduate from college.”

The ASU Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the mission of ASU as the New American University. It has consistently received the highest ranking for efficiency and transparency from Charity Navigator, the largest independent nonprofit evaluator, and was named a “Top Company to Work For in Arizona” by azcentral.com.

To learn more about supporting ASU, visit giveto.asu.edu.

 

Top photo: Sun Devil Giving Day, an annual event each spring, raised more than $3 million in donations large and small from more than 1,000 supporters across the country. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Beth Giudicessi

480-727-7402