GeoTenerife August Volcanic Risk internships end on a high

GeoTenerife is a UK company that runs science field trips and internship programmes for UK students in the Canary Islands. Their most recent campaign saw them bring six post and undergraduate students from a range of UK universities to work with the Canarian Volcanological Institute (Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias, INVOLCAN), in the Canary Islands.

GeoTenerife Director Sharon Backhouse said, “We are passionate about granting access for talented individuals to real science. Having seen, at first hand, the raw deal many students get when applying for science internships, we are determined to build a platform where students can really benefit from working right alongside scientists and learn about their craft.”

Thanks to an association agreement signed with INVOLCAN, GeoTenerife offers very limited spaces to students and post-graduates from UK universities on Reducing Volcanic Risk and Geothermal Exploration internships and the first group of students graduated from their scheme at the end of August 2014.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of applicants we received, and the range of UK universities they represented. In the end, six candidates were chosen for our August internship, from the universities of Oxford, Durham, Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and UCL,” she says.

Students spent the whole of August in Tenerife, working alongside INVOLCAN scientists and having educational tours and treks with GeoTenerife. As well as fieldwork on volcanoes in Tenerife and La Palma for volcano monitoring and geothermal exploration, students carried out lab work at the INVOLCAN Geochem Lab using different instrumental analysis (microGC, Quadropole Mass Spectrometer QMS and Isotope Ratio Mass Sectrometer IRMS).

Thanks to the INVOLCAN Scientist-in-charge, Dr Nemesio Perez, the interns’ work is to be written up in an abstract and presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna in April 2015. All interns’ names will be included on all the EGU 2015 contributions, and Dr Perez has encouraged them to travel to Vienna next year to discuss their work with their geoscientist peers.

Dr Perez says: “I vividly remember starting out as a young scientist, and how hard it was to get real hands-on experience. I would have jumped at the chance of an internship like the one we are offering with GeoTenerife – and the whole point is to help young students to make a start in their chosen field, not just use them to carry out meaningless, menial tasks, which so often is the case on so-called work experience or internship schemes. The point of this internship is to see the whole process – from taking samples out in the field, to testing in the lab and finally writing it up and publishing the results.”

Intern feedback

The interns , in turn, are grateful for the opportunity.

“Working for INVOLCAN was a fantastic experience,” says Ed Thomas, MearthSci undergraduate from Manchester University. “Straight away you are trusted with using the equipment and collecting real data to be published in papers. They give you valuable training in both fieldwork campaigns and in using lab equipment. Everyone you work with is a published professional in articles at the forefront of volcanic research. The machines you gain experience in using, such as the QMS or micro-GC, are widely used in both industry and research so whether you are looking to go into employment or academia the skills you develop on the internship are greatly beneficial.”

Ed, 21, from Maidstone, Kent is a volunteer at Manchester Museum and Student Ambassador for his university. “I would definitely recommend the internship programme, and thoroughly enjoyed my time with GeoTenerife and Involcan,” he says.

Helen Lacey, 23, MSci UCL, agrees. “The experience has given me exposure to how real monitoring is done and I’ve actually been able to get properly immersed in it – something you don’t get as an undergraduate. I have enjoyed learning hands on geochemistry which was fascinating coming from a physics background, and which also broadened my understanding of how volcanoes are monitored. Some of the fieldwork was tough, but it was very rewarding. By focussing on a specific area of research I really felt like I was making a contribution – researchers at INVOLCAN work hard and their dedication is clear. Being able to spend time with them was invaluable. I would recommend this experience to other undergraduates. It is an opportunity to get involved in real research, learn more about volcanology and find out whether you would like to pursue research in your own career.”

Helen, from Northampton, will start her PhD at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College, in October.

For Rebecca Frew, 21, undergraduate in MSci Earth Sciences at Oxford University, the highlight was her involvement in the Teide monitoring campaign. “Working long days at altitude was hard work physically but rewarding. We got unrivalled views of volcanic landscapes of the entire island and views to the other islands from the summit. It was definitely the toughest physical challenge, but with the greatest rewards! The INVOLCAN staff were all really friendly and it felt very much like being part of a large family working and living with them in the field accommodation. Especially mealtimes, which were lively, noisy affairs!”

On the Teide volcano summit, the interns’ fieldwork concentrated on fumarole gas geochemistry, diffuse degassing and thermal energy release.

Rebecca, who was born in Cardiff, adds: “I feel the experience has given me a range of knowledge and experiences, from geochemical field techniques testing soil gases and water for volcanic surveillance as well as Spanish and Canarian culture, through working and living alongside INVOLCAN staff.”

“The excursions with GeoTenerife allowed me to see more of the island and ensure that I got to thoroughly explore what the island had to offer. I think the internship has been a great advertisement for careers in active volcanic monitoring and career opportunities for geologists abroad! I would definitely thoroughly recommend the internship to geology and chemistry students considering careers in volcanic hazard surveillance and active research.”

Another of the August interns, Pamela Rattigan, says her experience in Tenerife as a GeoTenerife intern has been “overwhelming”. Pam, 21, was born in Greenock, Scotland and is a BSc Earth Science (geology) undergraduate from Glasgow University.

“The internship appealed to me as I am particularly interested in Volcanology and thought it would be a great way to learn. The fieldwork was the most enjoyable aspect of the internship. I was involved in the La Palma campaign, sampling on the Cumbre Vieja fault and summit, which was a great way to see the island and be involved in the recent and ongoing research. The highlight of the campaign was watching the sunrise above the clouds on the summit of Cumbre Vieja volcano at 6am.”

She says: “The team at INVOLCAN are exceptional. You learn so much from them out in the field and in the lab. Everyone was welcoming and approachable.”

The fieldwork campaigns
The interns were involved in three separate campaigns, alongside INVOLCAN specialists.

Two interns, Helen and Pam, spent ten days in neighbouring La Palma island, monitoring Cumbre Vieja volcano. Thanks to their work, INVOLCAN has assessed that the volcano currently emits around 911 tons of CO2 daily to the atmosphere.

Cumbre Vieja is around 200,000 years old, and has witnessed the highest number of eruptions of all the volcanoes in the Canary Islands (seven out of 16). It is located on the island with the highest level of Helium-3 emissions in the archipelago – an indicator, says INVOLCAN, that it is the “most likely” to be the next one to erupt in the region. It also registers the highest diffusion of CO2 per km2, 4.14 tons daily (almost double that of the Northwest Rift of Tenerife, 2.6 tons daily and El Hierro island, 2.5 tons daily.)

The La Palma campaign involved monitoring diffuse degassing along the N-S volcanic rift zone of Cumbre Vieja; diffuse degassing along the 1949 fracture/fault in the western zone of Cumbre Vieja and gas sampling at the CO2 rich discharge at Taburiente caldera.

For the second campaign, four further interns (Simon, Ed, Katie and Rebecca), were involved in monitoring the cone of Teide volcano, and spent three nights and four days at over 3,500m of altitude to carry out the task. Two of them were interviewed on Spanish national radio about this campaign: Katie Savage, 20 and from Cambridgeshire, (an MSci Geology undegrad at Bristol University) and Simon Smith, 22 and from Salisbury (an Energy and Society MSc undergrad at Durham University). You can hear their radio interviews on GeoTenerife’s YouTube channel.

Following their research with INVOLCAN, it was estimated that the Teide cone emits 390 tons of CO2 daily, which falls within the range of results registered since 1997, but is above average for the last 17 years.

The interns were also involved in a third campaign, monitoring emissions in the N-S volcanic rift zone in Tenerife and analysing the samples in the laboratory.

Rebecca Frew says: “The element of lab work allowed me to put the leg work I had done in the field into context and see the immediate steps leading to the final results. Being shown how the final maps of gas emissions are generated was really interesting and definitely helped me to gain a better understanding of how advancement in volcanic surveillance is developing and the many different skills and specialties required from the different members of the team to get to the published results. This has really helped to make me aware of the numerous careers open to Earth Science students.”

While on their internship, the students were encouraged to tweet about what they were learning. Science Communication is an important part of their experience. Sharon Backhouse of GeoTenerife says: “Twitter is an excellent discipline, especially for scientists. Having a limited number of characters in which to tell a good science story and reach a wide audience is a real challenge, and our interns worked very hard in this regard. It’s all very well making great discoveries in a lab, but being able to communicate that to scientists and non-scientists is a real skill, and one we have been working on throughout the month.”

Interns all tweeted @GeoTenerife, so you can see their work on GeoTenerife’s Twitter feed.

Seven further students from UK universities will complete an internship with GeoTenerife and INVOLCAN in September – you can see their progress by following @GeoTenerife on Twitter.

“We are delighted that our first six students on internships with INVOLCAN had such a positive experience. We are constantly working to offer a wider range of internships across a range of fields, and we encourage UK students and universities to keep following @GeoTenerife on Twitter to see the latest announcements in coming weeks,” concludes Backhouse.