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Volcanic ash: field, laboratory and numerical investigations of processes during its lifecycle

Final Report Summary - VERTIGO (Volcanic ash: field, laboratory and numerical investigations of processes during its lifecycle)

Explosive volcanic eruptions are an unavoidable natural hazard: Volcanic ash, the ejected lethal mixture of crystals, lava, glass and older rocks, is the most far-reaching threat. In April 2010, the ash cloud from Eyjafjall volcano in Iceland, a comparatively small event, paralysed large parts of Europe for up to one week in a manner unique in history. The impact was dramatic: several million passengers were grounded due to closed air pace and decelerated or halted industrial production caused several billion Euros of estimated economic loss. This scenario was largely amplified by the quasi-Babylonian lack of understanding and interaction amongst volcanologists, meteorologists, atmospheric researchers, engineers, private sector and politics, with severe implications for the affected people.
Volcanic eruptions are not singular “accidents”: Europe has several active volcanoes and is surrounded by others and must be prepared for similar future events. This requires a comprehensive and supradisciplinary approach to allow for an encompassing mechanistic and quantitative understanding of the physico-chemical processes during the lifecycle of volcanic ash: from formation in a volcano, through changes during the dispersal in the atmosphere to the impacts on life and society.
Within VERTIGO, a unique and innovative portfolio of partners from academia, research institutes and the private sector from eight European countries had formed to address this challenging issue. We offered an unmatched platform for research and training for highly-skilled students with a background in geology/volcanology, petrology/chemistry, informatics, biology, toxicology, fluid dynamics and/or engineering. The research-through-training projects for 13 students accomplished the EUROPE2020 strategy for a modern system of education. They were educated in scientific and transferable skills, spiced with experience in private sector applications, to qualify for career opportunities in academia, research institutes, civil protection and private sector.
The plurifold training contained topics as 1) field campaigns with stratigraphic analysis and sampling, 2) high-resolution monitoring of eruptive activity and profound data processing and analysis, 3) detailed sample description, 4) mechanistic understanding of ash aggregation, 5) evolution of numerical models concerning the fluid-dynamic behaviour of gas-particle mixtures, 6) instrument calibration and evolution and 7) laboratory studies to reveal the interaction with volcanic ash.

VERTIGO started on 1 January 2014. The website http://vertigo-itn.eu has always been regularly updated and extended. The website contains information about the project, the involved Full and Associated Partners, the employed Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), the scientific projects, the Working Packages, the network-wide activities, scientific publications as well as a password-protected area to download internal documents. Outreach is additionally done through the project’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VERTIGO.ITN/?ref=hl and our twitter channel at https://twitter.com/vertigo_itn. The VERTIGO ESRs have knitted strong and direct bonds to many researchers during the VERTIGO training events or international meetings.

The VERTIGO consortium had 23 partners (9 Full and 14 Associated Partners (http://www.vertigo-itn.eu/partners/)). The consortium was amended in the second half: DLR left the consortium and was replaced by UNIVIE as Full Partner, DWD was added as Associated Partner.
All 13 ESRs have completed their 36-month duration contracts (http://www.vertigo-itn.eu/esrs/). ESR 3 (at LMU) quit the VERTIGO contract after 34,43 months as he was offered a position at DLR. The VERTIGO ESRs mostly accomplished the planned works and investigations. All of them have repeatedly presented their results at international conferences (as e.g. AGU, CoV, EGU, IAVCEI). More than 20 peer-reviewed articles, most of which led by the VERTIGO ESRs, have already been published. The complete (and constantly updated) list can be found at: http://vertigo-itn.eu/science-output/publications/. The first ESR submitted in March 2017 (defence in late May 2017) in full compliance with LMU rules. As of 28 February 2018, 7 ESRs have submitted their thesis, 3 have already successfully defended (ESRs 1, 2, 6). Because of national regulations, some ESRs are required to complete 48 months of doctoral student status before submission.
A total of 6 training events (4 workshops and 2 summer schools) with mandatory attendance for all 13 ESRs has been organised between October 2014 and May 2017. Accordingly, we met at least every 6 months. Additionally, all ESRs met at the MidTermReview meeting in Louvain (near Brussels) in November 2015 and represented their training-through-research projects. The reviewers were very pleased with their performance. Moreover, the ESRs repeatedly met at international conferences, during secondments at the Full Partners and smaller topical events like field work or lab experiments.

We are convinced that the planned goals have be achieved entirely. Following publications, we hope that the scientific, industrial and risk mitigation communities will build on the findings, allowing for a better preparedness of densely populated areas, industrial activities and modern transportation systems to volcanic ash exposure from future volcanic eruptions. Thanks to the training received in VERTIGO and by the active contribution of the consortium, several ESRs have already found follow-up PostDoc positions or working contracts in research institute or private companies.