Meet Smithsonian Expert Dr. Stephanie Grocke
Can scientists predict volcanic eruptions?
Not yet, but Stephanie Grocke is working hard toward that goal. The volcanologist just finished her postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and will spend the next year researching volcanoes in Iceland.
WorldStrides: How did you get into your field?
Dr. Stephanie Grocke: I’ve always been passionate about the environment, exploring the outdoors, and traveling to see and experience new things. While exploring, I started asking more questions, like how did the Earth form, why do mountain ranges exist, and what causes natural disasters? I realized as an undergraduate that the answer to many of these questions is founded in geology. During a field course in Hawai’i on how scientists study volcanoes and monitor volcanic eruptions, I realized I wanted to focus my geology career on volcanology.
WorldStrides: What are some of the most exciting career opportunities for a geology major today?
Dr. Grocke: Exploring the natural resources of the Earth through industry and government positions, discovering new ways to harness renewable energy sources for a private company, delving into unknown questions about Earth’s history and future as a research scientist, focusing on conservation and the environment for a national park, or applying a geological perspective to engineering projects by becoming a professional geologist.
WorldStrides: What advice do you have for students who’d like to pursue your line of work?
Dr. Grocke: Students who would like to become independent researchers in Earth Science should pursue a PhD in a specific discipline (e.g., volcanology, paleoclimatology, oceanography, etc.). A student with an advanced degree in Earth Science can become a field geologist who travels the world, a laboratory scientist who pushes technology forward, or a science communicator and curator who teaches and educates the public about Earth processes. In all cases, the student should be passionate about how the Earth works, and excited to answer questions that have never before been answered.
WorldStrides: Tell us something few people know about volcanology.
Dr. Grocke: Few people know a career in volcanology exists; when I say I’m a volcanologist most think I study the “Vulcans.” It’s easy to question the importance of volcanology since most individuals have never seen a volcano and are even less likely to have seen one erupt; however, when volcanoes erupt they can pose devastating hazards to not only humans but also livestock, infrastructure, and aviation. Few people know that we cannot predict volcanic eruptions. The goal of volcanologists is to better understand how volcanoes work so we can one day predict future volcanic eruptions.
WorldStrides: When you go home each day, what makes you most proud?
Grocke: I am most proud that I found a career I love. It’s easy to wake up in the morning knowing I get to spend the day thinking about volcanoes, developing new science projects, and teaching others about Earth system processes. My best days are when I get to go out in the field, climb a volcano, and get paid to do it.
About Dr. Stephanie Grocke
As a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Stephanie Grocke conducted two years of research on volcanoes at the National Museum of Natural History. Her laboratory simulations focused on how shallow magma processes lead to large super-volcanic eruptions, specifically the depths at which magmas reside before causing the largest explosive eruptions on Earth. As a National Science Foundation-Fulbright Arctic Research Scholar, Stephanie will study volcanoes at the University of Iceland for one year. She’ll examine the last 100 years of explosive volcanic activity on Iceland by comparing sulfur content in rock samples with measurements made by satellites. This research will help her forecast the next 100 years of sulfur gas emissions.
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