Mount Erebus

The man who loves volcanoes

Being a volcanologist demands a quiverful of skills. You need to be in command of multiple branches of science, including geophysics, geochemistry and seismology. But you must also understand people for whom science matters less than sorcery: people living near volcanoes, for whom they are sacred places, homes to ancestors, sites of miracles, mountains where God’s intervention in human affairs is made manifest in ash, fumes and flame. And you have to be brave. When it comes to studying volcanoes, risk and reward go hand in hand. So a volcanologist must be willing to peer over the edge of a crater, breathing in smoke ‘inconvenient to respiration’, crying acid tears.