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Ken Sims Receives Fulbright Scholar Award

October 1, 2016
Chimborazo Volcano, snow covered mountain.
Chimborazo Volcano (6,263 m; 20,548 ft above sea level) where Dr Ken Sims will be spending much of his time doing field work during his US Fulbright Scholar Research in Ecuador, photo by Marco Cruz.

Professor Ken Sims has recently been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Award to study & work in Ecuador. The Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends approximately 800 American scholars and professionals per year to approximately 130 countries, where they lecture and/or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. Ecuador with an area of just 283,651 km2 (similar in size to the State of Nevada) has 43 volcanoes (28 volcanoes on the mainland and 15 in the Galapagos Islands). 23 of these volcanoes are active and erupted in the past millennia; 8 erupted multiple times in the 21st century and 3 of those volcanoes on the mainland (Reventador, Sangay, Tungurahua) have erupted this year. Mainland Ecuadorian volcanoes are large, high-altitude (5 to 6 thousand meters above sea level), steep-sided, symmetric, stratovolcanoes that are often glaciated, and stand majestically, yet loom ominously, over the fertile agricultural valleys below. Their omnificence is woven into the very fabric of Ecuador’s prehistoric and historic cultures. They are known as benevolent “givers” (Sangay) and volatile “exploders” (Reventador). The historical accounts of their destructive effects are well documented since colonial times.

Because of their imminent threat to Ecuador’s major population centers (e.g. Quito, Riobamba, Ambato) and agricultural valleys, forecasting mainland volcanism is critical to Ecuador’s state of health.  Ken’s work will build on the foundational work of the Instituto Geofísico Escuela Politécnica Nacional (IGEPN), Quito, Ecuador and adds new investigations into areas of isotope geochemistry, which are not a focus of prior research in Ecuador but are critical to our understanding of volcanic and related magmatic phenomena.  Specifically, Ken’s research will yield information on the timescales of shallow magmatic processes occurring beneath Ecuador’s volcanoes using Uranium (U) and Thorium (Th) decay-series isotopes. Determining the time scales of these shallow-level volcanic processes is fundamental to our physical understanding of eruption dynamics and hazard assessment.

During the six months Ken will be there, he & his family will be living in Quito where they have rented an apartment. He will be working at and with scientists from the Instituto Geofísico Escuela Politécnica Nacional (IGEPN) in Quito funded by a US Fulbright Scholar Research Award. During this time Ken will be traveling around Ecuador giving lectures on volcanology (IGEPN, Yachay Tech, etc.), working on collaborations with Ecuadorian scientists, and conducting field work on several of Ecuador’s most threatening volcanoes (Chimborazo, Sangay, Reventador). This research and cultural exchange program will be from July 15, 2016 to January 15, 2017 for this Fulbright Scholar award during his sabbatical leave from the University of Wyoming.

This work represents an existing long-term collaboration with Ecuadorian scientists and mountaineers to provide state of the art scientific information that better informs models of eruption forecasting of Ecuadorian volcanoes.

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