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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.... 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

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.


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.  A great addition for all collections.


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. 



Rusch and Uhlman bring the power of volcanoes to life....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.



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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