Sunday, 11 January 2015

Into the volcano: why glamourise the danger?

Into the volcano: why glamourise the danger?
Volcanologists wearing hard hats at Yassur several years ago. Take note BBC. (Photo @volcanna) 

Volcanoes are exciting things to see. Amazing cultures exist on their slopes. They threaten ways of life around them.

Hence, they make great TV – but I was disappointed with the first episode of BBC’s Into the Volcano.

Here’s why:

1) They weren’t wearing hard hats!!

Most volcanologists wear hard hats, even on volcanoes that haven’t been recently active. It’s now common practice, much like wearing a helmet whilst cycling or on a building site. I thought that these days all volcanologists wore them (especially when close to an exploding vent!). Even the smallest of ballistics from an explosion can kill someone. I have spoken at length to some of those who helped rescue survivors following the Galeras 1993 eruption – want an opinion on hard hats…ask them!

2) I question the risk/reward of collecting the lava bomb ‘fresh sample’

Did you know that there are actually quite a few volcanologists from Vanuatu, including many disaster management professionals, many of whom I often see at international conferences. I contacted them to ask why they didn’t appear in the programme. This was part of their reply:

“what was programmed to be shown by scientists for this show is not real and is against what we have been preaching to communities here, we educate the communities to take care of themselves not to throw themselves into the volcano!!!! Therefore we [Ni-Vanuatu scientists] ended up withdrawing ourselves from this filming campaign because what is being shown is not real, we do not go into the crater to collect data!!!!”

Maybe someone can give me a wholly convincing reason of why collecting a barely warm ‘fresh' sample was worth it, compared to the other bombs that they might have collected that were much nearer?

3) Volcanoes are dangerous enough – we don’t need to glamourise the risk

Volcanoes are really dangerous. They kill people. They force communities to change their ways of life to avoid potential harm. They also kill volcanologists and tourists who visit them. I’m very unimpressed with the producers for glamourising the danger, showing scientists collecting rocks without even the most modest health and safety equipment. I’m also sad that the scientists made this choice.

Most volcanologists work to reduce volcanic risk by increasing our knowledge of them through science and learning how to work with people living near them. Much of what was in this programme was laddish behaviour that I would expect to see (and admittedly sometimes enjoy) from the chaps at Top Gear.

BBC Into the volcano went to a location with the intention of doing something that is immensely dangerous, where the local volcanologists didn’t want to be involved, for limited scientific reward; this hasn’t done much to enhance the image of volcanology as a science that primarily aims to reduce risk.

No comments:

Post a Comment