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Volcanoes – Nature’s architects

Let’s talk volcanoes! Are we close to being able to monitor and predict volcanic activity in real time? In this episode of CORDIScovery we take a look at what crystals in magma can tell us, hear what it takes to make lava flow in a lab, and find out about the well-named ‘extremophile’ bacteria that thrive in some of the world’s most challenging environments.

Fundamental Research icon Fundamental Research

The underwater explosion off Tonga on 14 January 2022 sent a shockwave travelling faster than 1 000 km/h, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology: almost as fast as the speed of sound. Sonic booms from the eruption were heard across the Pacific, including in Fiji and Vanuatu, and as far as Alaska, more than 9 000 km away. In La Palma, the volcano that erupted last year has spewed lava that swallowed over 1 000 homes and continues to hold temperatures of more than 500 degrees Celsius in some parts. So, what can the latest research into what have been called ‘Earth’s architects’ tell us about the lead-up to an eruption? Are we close to being able to track the evolution of an eruption in real time? Can we trace the mechanisms by mapping the crystals that appear in lava? And how can the organisms living in some of the most inhospitable parts of our planet help improve climate models? Stephan Kolzenburg took part in the DYNAVOLC project. When not monitoring volcanic activity in the field, Stephan is recreating lava flow in his lab, to model and predict how lava and magma will behave during an eruption. Jane Scarrow is also working on ways to predict eruptions and how they will evolve. Her VESPER project looked at processes in magmatic reservoirs beneath active volcanoes and she has also been involved in the response to the La Palma eruption. Huub Op den Camp explored how bacteria live in acidic volcanic ecosystems during the VOLCANO project, and how they use atmospheric methane. His work can help us understand how microbes mediate the flow of methane between the atmosphere and sources such as wetlands, which could improve climate models.

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CORDIScovery, CORDIS, Volcanoes, DYNAVOLC, VESPER, VOLCANO, lava, magma, La Palma, Tonga, extremophile, bacteria, methane, eruption