VMSG 2020

Hello and happy new year!

The end of last year was quite a whirlwind! Alongside tutoring on three undergraduate courses during semester one, I also completed a teaching course organised by the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) in order to gain Associate Fellowship. In my own research I’ve been trying to write my first paper (which is a whole other blog post for another time!) and preparing for the VMSG conference in Plymouth in the new year. I took a well earned break over the Christmas period, at home with friends and family, and I hope you were all also able to take some time away from work.

Blue skies making an appearance over the Barbican on Thursday.

This is the third annual VMSG conference I have attended during my PhD and I think it always gets the new year off to a great start. It’s hard to leave not feeling buoyed up and full of inspiration for the year ahead. Plymouth’s winding cobbled lanes and picture-perfect harbour front made for the perfect backdrop for the this years meeting.

I’ve previously found conferences to be a little overwhelming sometimes. Perhaps it just comes with experience, but this was the first conference I’ve really enjoyed and felt like the discussions and interactions I was able to have with fellow scientists were really positive and productive. This was the first talk I’ve delivered at a conference, and with no parallel sessions, my aim was to communicate my message clearly to a very broad audience. My fitbit watch recorded a peak heart rate at 124 bpm which I think means I was particularly nervous, but as we say in the lunch time running group in the Grant Institute – it’s retrospective fun. I really enjoyed being able to talk about my work to this audience.

My talk featured in session 5 on the theme of Volcanic Hazards & Monitoring. Photo credit: Sally Law

I’m in the process of getting this work written up, so hopefully you will be able to see some of these results very soon. Broadly speaking though, I was presenting my findings from the analysis of a drumbeat episode that occurred at Tungurahua Volcano in Ecuador. Drumbeat seismicity is the name we give to episodes of highly similar, repeating, periodic long-period earthquakes. I’m interested in what volcanic processes generate these curious phenomena and I’m open to discussions with folks about these source mechanisms. So if you have ideas about plug processes in intermediate volcanoes or magma bodies degassing, I’d love to have a chat.

Across all 7 themes in both posters and talks, there was a huge variety of research on show and it was great to see so many students presenting! I particularly enjoyed VMSG Award Winner David Pyle’s talk, using a number of historical references and accounts of volcanic activity.

I’d like to say thank you to both the VMSG and local organising committee for putting together such a great week of science. Congratulations go to all the prize winners, including colleague, friend and room mate for the week, Sally Law, who was awarded the Bob Hunter Prize for Best Student Talk. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone next year in Manchester for VMSG 2021!

27th Annual IUGG Conference

Last week I headed out to Canada, to my first international conference during my PhD. Over 4000 participants gathered in Montreal for the 27th meeting of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG). The union itself is formed of 8 individual associations covering everything from deep Earth seismology to atmospheric sciences, so there was a hugely varied programme of talks and posters available over 10 days.



Myself, Hannah, Gina and Ashley at the view point from Mont Royal on our penultimate evening

As such, a good group of Edinburgh PhD students from all fields of geophysics were in Montreal for the week. Hannah, Gina and (recently handed in!) Ashley, all gave great talks in their sessions. My poster presentation on Saturday was also a really good experience. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in such a specific Volcano Seismology and Acoustics session and it was great to hear so many talks from those really advancing the field. I had some interesting discussions about the use of the quality factor (Q) across different applications in seismology and plenty of ideas for wrapping this work up into something publishable. The IAVCEI meeting began with a day reviewing 100 years of volcanology and concluded with the most recent advances in monitoring and modelling. With over 250 IAVCEI delegates in attendance, the Sunday night social was lots of fun – even bumping into some of my supervisors old students!

Presenting in the session Advances in Volcano Seismology
7am roof top yoga organised in the conference schedule

In a first for me, the conference also hosted a yoga session at 7am on the penultimate day. In the 7th floor conference room that opened out onto the roof of the venue, 12 delegates started their morning totally re-energised with the sunshine pouring in. This is definitely something I hope more conferences can include in the schedule.

The city of Montreal was a beautiful place to explore in between talk sessions. As well as trying the local favourite, poutine, the conference venue was based in the middle of Chinatown so we had plenty of good food. The Canadian F1 Grand Prix circuit is also in the city and the track is open to the public throughout the year – so of course I had to go for a run around it!

The Canadian F1 Grand Prix track

It was a brilliant opportunity to present my work at such a large conference. Plenty of interesting discussions were had and I’m looking forward to drawing some conclusions in this most recent piece of work on Tungurahua.

I’d like to thank the IUGG for awarding a Student Grant to cover my registration costs – having one less expense to worry about in the lead up to the conference really made preparation so much easier.

A downloadable copy of my poster from this meeting is available here.




‘Hello world!’

Hello and welcome! My name is Sophie and I’m here to talk about all things solid Earth geophysics. I’ll be writing about exciting discoveries in my research, geology based pieces that make the news and some insights into the day to day life of being a PhD researcher.

To introduce myself a little,  I’m currently in the second year of my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. I’m trying to understand how the tiny earthquakes generated by active volcanoes, can give us more insight into eruptive processes. In particular I have spent the last 18 months working on Tungurahua Volcano in Ecuador. Tungurahua began to show signs of activity in 1999 and through cycles of Vulcanian and Strombolian eruptions, activity continued through until mid 2017. Although the volcano sits relatively quietly now, there is still vast amounts that can be learnt from these 18 years of activity. The volcano is closely monitored by the Instituto Geofísico in Quito, Ecuador – and you can read a little more about their work here (https://www.igepn.edu.ec/). The popular tourist town, of Baños sits just to the north of Tungurahua. Its population of over 10,000 people, as well as many more farming communities throughout the Tungurahua province are particularly exposed and vulnerable to volcanic hazards. I hope that my research can contribute to ongoing studies of this volcano and many other analogous systems around the world.

Aside from seismology and volcanology I have a broad interest in most things solid Earth geology and geophysics. At undergraduate level I presented a passive seismic analysis of the New Zealand tectonic system as part of my dissertation, and during my masters I studied magnetic anomaly mapping in the Lesser Antilles subduction zone.

During term time, I am a tutor and demonstrator for undergraduate Earth Science students, here at the University of Edinburgh. I tutor an Introductory Geophysics course for 2nd year students, covering principles of global seismology, electromagnetism and gravity. I am also a demonstrator in a weekly Python computer lab for Geochemists – Python is my programming language of choice for day to day work (pun intended in the welcome to this post), but I have dabbled a little with C++ and MATLAB, and I’m always keen to learn new computing skills.

I have a number of conferences and workshops coming up across the summer, both in Edinburgh and overseas, and I’ll be sure to add content as they happen. I’m most active over on twitter (@sophie_butcher_), so drop me a message and I’ll be sure to follow back. Thanks for having a read and keep your eyes peeled for more volcano content soon!