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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Department of Mineral Sciences

Izalco Volcano

Petrology and Volcanology Research

Curator Liz Cottrell and a team of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and interns investigate the long-term geochemical evolution of the solid Earth, from the initial stages of planetary differentiation to ongoing two-way geochemical exchange between the Earth’s surface and deep interior. The high-pressure experimental laboratory in the Department of Mineral Sciences is capable of achieving pressures from 1 atmosphere to over 200 gigapascals (deep into Earth’s core). Experimental results are compared with chemical and spectroscopic analyses of natural volcanic samples in order to understand the fundamental processes that shape our planet (watch video).


A thin slice through volcanic glass from the sea floor (left), and a photo of Cottrell and undergraduate Christa Jackson in front of a piston-cylinder. This device mimics the conditions beneath volcanoes. Cottrell analyzes volcanic glasses and experiments chemically and spectroscopically to understand the processes at work beneath Earth’s surface.

Research scientist Lee Siebert uses data from the Global Volcanism Program (GVP) data to assess the hazards implications of population densities in proximity to volcanoes. His field projects focus primarily on large debris-avalanche deposits related to volcanic edifice collapse in locations such as Alaska, Indonesia, México, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Acajutla DEM

Shaded-relief DEM of western El Salvador showing extent of Acajutla debris-avalanche deposit.

Curator Sorena Sorensen studies fluid-rock interactions within the crust of convergent margins by means of field work and a variety of geochemical analytical methods, especially cathodoluminesence imaging and trace element determinations.

CL Image

Cathodoluminescence images of Jadeitite.

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