When the hazard you’re monitoring is the least of your troubles… the early days of a ubiquitous computing citizen science initiative on active volcanoes

Friday, 19 December 2014
Saskia M van Manen1, Mike Richards2, Robert Seaton2, Ian Cameron2, Geoffroy Avard3 and Maria Martinez3, (1)Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7, United Kingdom, (2)Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, (3)OVSICORI-UNA, Heredia, Costa Rica
Approximately 500 million people live in close proximity to one or more of the world’s 1500 active volcanoes, and this number is set to increase through population growth. The corresponding human, social, environmental and economic costs of volcanic activity are likewise set to rise. Monitoring of active volcanoes is imperative to minimize the impact of volcanic activity. However, people’s responses towards risk are not just determined by objective scientific information, but also by socio-cognitive factors such as hazard salience; risk perception; anxiety levels and sense of self efficacy.

This project aims to take a citizen science approach to the monitoring of hazardous volcanic gases: a low-cost automated ubiquitous technology station will increase spatial and temporal data resolution while providing citizens access to relevant, accurate, timely and local information. This means a single data stream can be used to develop a better understanding of volcanic degassing and raise levels of hazard salience and increase feelings of self efficacy.

A year and two prototypes into the project, this work presents the lessons learnt to date. Careful consideration was given to the station design in light of the harsh conditions it may encounter. Once the first prototypes were built, results from the initial lab tests were encouraging. Yet it wasn’t until the stations were taken into the field that unexpected challenges were encountered: humans. During the very first field trial the prototype was vandalised, our second attempt was thwarted by customs and courier services.

As a result, we’ve had to be flexible in our approach and adapt our strategy and station design in response to these events, which will eventually result in a better outcome. However, this case study serves as a reminder of the importance of considering factors beyond the equipment, data, interpretation and involvement of the public, when planning and implementing a citizen science initiative.