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Villarrica Volcano, Southern Volcanic Zone


Volcanology is the study of volcanoes and in particular the way in which volcanoes erupt. Volcanologists investigate the processes that go on inside the Earth that lead to volcanic eruptions. Their work involves the use of geophysical techniques, such as the measurement of small-scale earthquakes created by moving magma and the measurement of bulging or tilt on the surfaces of volcanoes. They also directly measure the chemistry of magmas reaching the Earth's surface and in particular their gas content. The work on active volcanoes is potentially dangerous since eruptions remain relatively unpredictable.

Other geologists study both modern and ancient volcanoes because of their importance in showing how the interior of the Earth works and because volcanoes, particularly those that form beneath the sea, are the sites of important mineral deposits. Thus an understanding of volcanoes is important for the geologist engaged in mineral exploration.

Rather few Canadians are employed directly as volcanologists: this is because Canada has only a few recently active volcanoes (in British Columbia and the Yukon). Study of volcanology is far more important in countries such as Iceland, several of the Caribbean islands, and many central American countries, where volcanic eruptions are frequent. There are perhaps as few as ten specialised volcanologists employed in Canada. Such employment in Canada is largely in government agencies and universities. Employment would require an advanced degree and salaries would be in the range of $40 000 to $90 000CDN.

Many more Canadian geologists are involved in studying ancient volcanic rocks because of their potential to host mineral ores. Mineral exploration geologists commonly nineral ores. Mineral exploration geologists commonly need a good understanding of igneous petrology and volcanology and use these subdisciplines in their work. Employment for such geologists is largely in the mineral industry, although there are also jobs in provincial and federal government surveys and in universities. Employment in the mineral industry tends to be quite cyclical and related to world prices for metals. Salaries are quite variable, ranging from $25 000 to over $100 000CDN depending on experience and qualifications.

Igneous Petrology

Msauli chert
Igneous petrology is the study of all rocks that have crystallised from molten magma, both volcanic rocks that form at the Earth's surface and plutonic rocks (e.g., granite) that have formed at depth within the Earth. Igneous petrologists use a range of approaches to study these rocks: chemical analysis, geochronology, thermodynamics, phase diagrams, microscope petrography and experimental techniques.

Most Canadian igneous petrologists are employed in government agencies and universities. Employment would require an advanced degree and salaries would be in the range of $40 000 to $90 000CDN. There are approximately 100 scientists with a specialization in igneous petrology currently working in Canada. As for volcanologists, a far greater numbers of igneous petrologists are employed in the mineral industry because igneous petrologists have skills necessary to evaluate the potential of magmatic ore deposits. Again, salaries are quite variable, ranging from $25 000 to over$100,000CDN depending on experience and qualifications. Many igneous petrologists find jobs in areas related to chemistry and engineering such as analytical laboratories.

JOBS Related to Volcanology & Igneous Petrology

Since both volcanologists and igneous petrologists develop skills that are useful in other fields there are many other jobs available to them. The following list is a sample of the kinds of jobs open to trained volcanologists or igneous petrologists:

Analytical chemist (analyses samples)
Computer programmer (programs related to geology)
Crystallographer/mineralogist (studies minerals and man-made materials)
Educator - geology or science (teaches)
Forensic scientist (studies glasses and rocks from crime scenes)
Gemmologist (studies gem stones)
Geochemist (uses chemistry to investigate rocks)
Geochronologist (dates objects)
Geo-hazards assessor (for government or industry)
Geologist (working in mining, exploration, government or academia)
Geothermal energy advisor (working in industry or government)
Government consultant (e.g., for the military or foreign aid)
Industrial mineral assessor (pumice, gems, minerals, aggregate etc.)
Materials scientist/engineer (ceramics, glass, cement industries)
Mining consultant Planetary geologist (studying meteorites)
Resource manager (for volcanic or igneous resources)
Technical/science writer

Most career advisors suggest that one of the best ways to market yourself is to become involved in professional organizations. The Volcanology and Igneous Petrology Division of the Geological Association of Canada is a professional organisation for true volcanologists, igneous petrologists, and for geologists who work on ancient volcanic and other igneous rocks. Members of this association receive regular newsletters with updates on activities and advances in volcanology and igneous petrology. The association has a membership of about 170 people.

[From Penny King & Georgia Pe-Piper]