Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives

After more than a century of peaceful dormancy, the volcano Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, South America, erupted. Blistering clouds of searing volcanic gases and ash flash-melted huge amounts of snow, launching a towering wall of hot mud toward the village of Armero. People ran, but they couldn’t outrun the onslaught, and 23,000 perished.

More than a billion people—one out of every five people in the world—are threatened by volcanic eruptions like

Nevado del Ruiz. Countless cities, towns, homes and schools all over the globe reside in the shadow of more than 1,500 potentially dangerous volcanoes – 160 in the United States alone. Given the constant danger,

is there any way to prevent massive tragedies from volcanic eruptions? Do volcanoes give early warning signs? When will a volcano erupt and how violent will it be?Volcanologists Andy Lockhart and John Pallister want to know the answers those questions, and they’re willing to risk their lives to find them. Andy and John lead a small group of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey known as the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP). Join these scientists on the flanks of steaming, quaking, ash-spewing volcanoes all over the world—from Colombia and the Philippines to Chile and Indonesia—as they struggle to predict eruptions and prevent tragedies. This gripping addition to the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series brings you along with the volcanologists as they helicopter onto active volcanoes to install equipment, climb into blast zones to collect ash samples, and endure suspense as they wait to find out if their predictions are right…or wrong. 

Award-winning writer Elizabeth Rusch is your guide on a journey that features stunning color photography—and a riveting story of scientific heroes toiling in the danger zone of nature’s sleeping giants to save lives.

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Year Published: June 18, 2013

ISBN-10: 0547503504
ISBN-13: 978-0547503509


~ Oregon Spirit Award winner ~

~ “Gripping,” Wall Street Journal ~

~ "Exceptional," Horn Book, starred review ~

~ “Eye-opening,” School Library Journal, starred review ~

~ “High-stakes science, ” Kirkus, starred review ~

“Compelling,” Booklist ~ 

~ AAAS/Suburu Prize for Excellence in Science Books finalist, 2014 ~

~ Outstanding Science Trade Book, NSTA/CBC ~

~ YALSA Excellence nominee ~

~ Booklist Top 30 for K-8 ~

~ Pennsylvania Readers Choice Award Nominee ~

~ Utah Children's Choice Nominee ~

~ South Carolina Children's Choice Nominee ~

~ Best Book of Year: SLJ, Bank Street, CCBC, Nonfiction Detectives ~

~ ALA Notable, 2014 ~

~ Orbis Pictus recommended ~




KIRKUS, ★ Starred Review

Rusch (Mighty Mars Rovers, 2012) cranks up the pressure as she portrays scientists whose work requires getting entirely too close to active or soon-to-be-active volcanoes.

This entry in the Scientists in the Field series is highlighted by dramatic accounts of three massive modern eruptions: Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz in 1985, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines (1991) and Mount Merapi (2010) in Indonesia. Rusch follows members of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, the “first and only international volcano crisis team,” to those and other sites, providing plenty of maps, subterranean diagrams and photos of team members working both in labs and on site with local scientists for visual aids. She explains how volcanologists have learned to identify and evaluate the often ambiguous warning signs of impending disaster in time to make informed decisions about when and how far to evacuate nearby residents (not to mention themselves). Her descriptions, as well as Uhlman’s before-and-after photos will leave readers with vivid impressions of the massive destruction that lava bombs, pyroclastic flows and heavy rains of ash can, do and inevitably will wreak.


High-stakes science, portrayed in one of the scarier entries in this bar-setting series.

THE HORN BOOK, ★ Starred Review

This terrific addition to the Scientists in the Field series features the dedicated geologists of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program, a U.S. agency that provides technical expertise in eruption prediction, as they work with their scientific counterparts in countries with potentially dangerous volcanoes. Gripping accounts of the team’s successful work at the 1991 Mount Pinatubo (Philippines) and the 2010 Mount Merapi (Indonesia) eruptions expose the complicated scientific and social dimensions of predicting the intensity of volcanic eruptions and their potential impact on human populations, where the costs of being wrong could be devastating. The portrayal of scientific investigation is exceptional: scientists build and monitor equipment, interview residents, collect ash and rock samples, survey the geography, and, in a particularly informative conversation (the dialogue captured by Rusch, who is in attendance), draw on their collective expertise to develop knowledge that will help prevent future disasters. Excellent photographs by Uhlman and from other sources not only feature awe-inspiring shots of the various volcanoes but also depict human vulnerability to these natural disasters, contrasting images of everyday life with those of ruined homes, evacuation shelters, and chilling post-eruption landscapes. Chapter notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, and an index are appended. danielle j. ford


What does another book about volcanoes or natural disasters matter to a nonfiction section these days? In the case of this addition to the series, it matters a lot. This book gives tragic and terrifying volcanoes a sense of story that other books lack by talking about real-life crises and how individuals came together to keep millions of people safe. Young geology enthusiasts may not realize that there are so many volcanoes in the world, erupting constantly and posing threats to so many people, so the maps and personal narratives are eye-opening. The text is easy to understand but does not oversimplify the content, and the captions for the full-color photos give brief but valuable information about the images. In addition to telling the stories of specific, recent volcanic eruptions and how volcanologists reacted, there are also many pages with general information that help readers gain necessary vocabulary and see the big picture of volcanic activity. The book includes an extensive index, a helpful glossary, chapter notes citing sources, and a selected bibliography that is fairly lengthy, covering quite a breadth of sources. A great addition for all collections. –Trina Bolfing, Westbank Libraries, Austin, TX


Four hundred years ago, the hulking Andean mountain Nevado del Ruiz rumbled to life, spewing ash, lava and pumice, "as big as ostrich eggs . . . sparkling red like iron from the forge," as a Spanish missionary recounted. By the 1980s, the population living around the volcano had all but forgotten the menace it posed, and when it erupted in 1985, more than 23,000 people perished in the searing mud that poured down its sides.

As Elizabeth Rusch explains in the vividly written and accessible nonfiction pages of "Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives" (Houghton Mifflin, 76 pages, $18.99), that tragedy was a catalyst for geologists. Having collected information from the crater and ashfall of Mount St. Helens, which had erupted in Washington state five years earlier, they formed an international crisis team to bring their predictive expertise to other places threatened by the Earth's volatility.


Ms. Rusch's gripping account is full of details that will snag the interest of children ages 9 and older: that volcanic gases act like bubbles in a soda bottle; that a humming earthquake known as a "harmonic tremor" means magma is rising and boiling away groundwater; that a leading U.S. geologist wears Harry Potter glasses. Photographs throughout by Tom Uhlman illustrate the work that scientists are doing, but the most dramatic image—of a little blue truck beetling along a dirt road just ahead of boiling volcanic clouds—comes from Alberto Garcia, who took it when Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in 1991.



In the latest entry in the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series, Rusch and Uhlman bring the power of volcanoes to life, though their focus is on how modern scientists predict eruptions. Following the death of 23,000 people in the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, members of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program believed they’d learned enough from earlier eruptions to help prevent future tragedies. Because the VDAP scientists cannot always be on site when disasters occur, they hosted and trained native volcanologists to measure volcanic pressure and develop early evacuation warnings. This book focuses on two extreme challenges, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines and Mount Merapi in Indonesia. Despite the training, advances in modern detection equipment, and satellite images, Mount Merapi proved a nail-biting experience. Because Rusch and Uhlman saw the Merapi destruction first-hand when they accompanied VDAP scientists on a follow-up trip to Indonesia, their deep research, educational graphics, and breathtaking photos are all the more compelling.— J. B. Petty



This Scientists in the Field entry focuses on the work of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), a cadre of scientists within the U.S. Geological Survey that trains international vulcanologists and seismologists in monitoring techniques, and joins them (by invitation only) with assistance and advice during a crisis. Rusch’s admirably organized title begins with the tragic story of the pre-VDAP eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia in 1985, in which some 23,000 lives were lost. Drawing on their experience with the eruption of Mount St. Helens, a team of American scientists determines to make an organized effort to share what they’ve learned about how to install monitoring apparatus in remote and potentially lethal locations. As scientists from other nations arrive and share their own experiences, the total knowledge base broadens, making it clear this is truly an international effort. This title’s culminating event, which Rusch and Uhlman witnessed and documented in 2010, is the eruption of Mount Merapi in Indonesia. VDAP-trained Indonesian scientists ran this show, with some remote back-up from VDAP (already committed at other hotspots) and with coordinated satellite data from the international community. Timely evacuations saved most, if not all, lives, and in the aftermath of the explosion VDAP returned to Mount Merapi to learn from their Indonesian colleagues unique features of this eruption. Rusch treats with particular respect the decisions of those who chose not to evacuate, and the reasons why people make their livelihoods alongside a volcano that continually threatens their lives. Images of destruction may initially draw the casual browser, but far more impressive is the balance of vivid photographs that bring the international scientists into the limelight. A glossary, chapter notes, bibliography, and index are included.  EB

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