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: Uniting remote sensing observations and human experiences to understand recent eruptive activity of Volcán de Fuego, Guatemala

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


T}his thesis presents an interdisciplinary case study of the active Volcán de Fuego in southern Guatemala to examine: (1) the physical behaviours and volcanic hazards that characterize eruptions occurring in recent years, and (2) the factors that influence local residents' decision to evacuate from these eruptions. The thesis presents different answers to these issues depending on the data sources studied: satellite observations, geophysical and gas timeseries, and observations of and interviews with local residents and authorities. The thesis begins by presenting Fuego as an ideal subject for an interdisciplinary volcanology PhD, and establishes the philosophical positions and methodological approaches that were necessary to consider in order to undertake both physical and social science research within this PhD. The first results of this thesis are satellite observations of Fuego's activity between January 2015 and June 2018. These observations, supplemented by other data, identify a new eruptive regime characterized by frequent explosive eruptions ("paroxysms") consistently preceded by lava flow effusion. Thresholds for determining eruption are debated. Physical results are juxtaposed with qualitative narratives of previous eruptions of Fuego and evacuations of communities as told by both authorities and local residents of rural communities around the volcano. These narratives reveal that an eruption at Fuego is not a consistent phenomenon, but is experienced differently by different observers based on their previous experiences, knowledge, resources, and priorities. Finally, quantitative and qualitative data are integrated through analysis of timeframes of eruption and response for several recent eruptions. Quantitative timescales and their qualitative counterpart, timelines, provide detailed chronologies of times and uncertainties involved in forecasting eruptions of Fuego and of deciding, warning, responding to, and evacuating from eruption. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that the lives of local residents cannot be reliably protected from hazards of Fuego without integration of the monitoring and risk mitigation efforts of INSIVUMEH and CONRED. This integration mirrors that of physical and social drivers of volcanic risk explored within this work. This thesis demonstrates the value of integrating physical and social research methods in a single interdisciplinary project, and contributes to volcanological literature with findings that volcanic risk is both spatially and temporally variable around a single volcano.
Date of Award24 Jun 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJenny Riker (Supervisor), I M Watson (Supervisor), Teresa Armijos (Supervisor) & Gustavo Chigna (Supervisor)


  • Volcano
  • Guatemala
  • Volcanic hazards
  • Risk
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Remote sensing
  • Volcán de Fuego
  • Experience

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