How Volcanoes Can Mess Up Your Day – insights from Café Scientifique

Café Scientifique is a pretty cool idea: a short talk by a scientist for interested laypeople, followed by a question and answer session.  Tuesday’s Café, titled “How Volcanoes Can Mess Up Your Day”, was all about the results of a small to mid-size volcanic eruption and how it might impact folks living in Wellington.

It’s a dedicated crowd that rocks up to VK’s Comedy and Blues Bar on Dixon Street, and a really refreshing mix of different ages are present.  I can’t think of the last event I went to where folks in their 70s mixed and mingled with 20- and 30-somethings.

Dr Natalia Deligne, a volcanic hazard and risk modeller at GNS Science, is our resident scientist.  She seems a bit shy of the crowd, but thoroughly prepared to geek out about volcanoes with us.  Her talk focuses on the social impact of a small- to mid-sized volcanic eruption on Wellington (i.e. if the ash reaches us from a nearby volcanic event, as there are no volcanoes in Wellington).  It is one part earth science, one part disaster preparedness.

Deligne’s particular focus is volcanic ash.  It turns out that ash is a terrible name for the stuff; volcanic ash is less like the fluffy chimney stuff and more like pulverized rock or miniscule glass shards.  Ash affects everything from air travel (mostly by gumming up airplane engines) to road markings (by reflecting light and obscuring road markings) to human health (by messing with the lungs).

I find myself constantly pulling out my phone to make notes of fun facts and potential questions.  The Q&A after Deligne’s talk reveals that everyone in the room is picking up what she’s putting down, with cogent questions about New Zealand volcanic hotspots and the probability of different eruption scenarios.  And Deligne is fantastic at summarizing questions when the room makes it hard to hear the person who asked.

And I love how ladies are the public face of this event!  Women in science, being womanly, being scientific; it’s fantastic.  This is how we can get more girls and young women into STEM fields.

Café Scientifique is a regular event, held about once every 6-8 weeks and is organised by the Science in Society Group (Victoria University) .  If you subscribe to the StarTalk podcast or watch lots of nature documentaries, this is a great event for you.

-Shannon Friday

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Café Scientifique
Photo credit: Lloyd Homer, GNS Science.