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Volcanoes and the Human and Physical Geographies of Risk  

Amy Donovan

Volcanic risk is highly complex, and incorporates social, economic, physical, infrastructural, and cultural elements. It is also high stakes, but low probability—making it particularly challenging for governments to manage. Substantial advances in the understanding of volcanic processes, hazards, and monitoring signals can enable scientists to forecast volcanic activity in many cases, but high levels of uncertainty remain. Volcanology itself is a relatively young science, emerging in the 20th century following the growth of the geological sciences in the post-Enlightenment period. Crises in the late 20th and early 21st century have demonstrated the complexity of applying uncertain scientific models in particular, local, and politically challenging contexts. Volcanology continues to make advances in integrating disciplines—particularly in the combination of physical hazard science with impact assessment, and increasingly with the social sciences. Volcanic eruptions can also substantially alter the power dynamics in a particular context, as volcanologists’ forecasts can become all-consuming for local populations. This is challenging both for scientists and for political officials and populations coming to terms with the threat they may face. The critical geography of disasters, as it incorporates these issues of relationality, must also learn from the action research literature and develop and deploy interventions that can change the emerging possibility spaces within an emergent disaster assemblage. Understanding the relational processes of sociomaterial disasters through an “imaginations” lens can enable interventions to be identified at an early stage.