Newsmaker: Brad Scott

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MAGMA MAN: GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott in action measuring the temperature of Papakura geyser. PHOTO/BEN FRASER 111013BF4
MAGMA MAN: GNS Science volcanologist Brad Scott in action measuring the temperature of Papakura geyser. PHOTO/BEN FRASER 111013BF4

This week's newsmaker is volcanologist Brad Scott. He monitors and assesses active volcanoes, geothermal systems and earthquake activity. He has been with GNS Science since 1991.

Tell us about yourself, your background, your family and your interests?

I'm originally from Hamilton, but I did most of my schooling in Rotorua, I attended Rotorua Boys' High School. My interests are focussed around outdoors and sailing. I've raced and cruised my own yacht for around 30 years. I'm the commodore of the local trailer yacht squadron and I am also involved in Coastguard. I'm married to Judy and we have two daughters, Jessica and Staci.

So what attracted you to being a volcanologist?

When I left high school after seventh form I wasn't clear what I wanted to do and ended up taking a science cadetship with NZ Geological Survey (DSIR). The Geological Survey office specialised in volcano and geothermal work.

Originally the job attracted me because of the outdoor nature of the work, however it has grown into a career. I was very fortunate that Jim Healy (world famous volcanologist) was still "working" part-time and others like Ted Lloyd, Simon Nathan, Ian Nairn and Peter Wood encouraged me into the science. I completed a NZ Diploma of Science in 1991.

How long have you been a volcanologist for? Has the job changed since you started out?

I've been in the "job" close to 40 years. I started as a technician and worked through to senior technical officer. After DSIR was disestablished in 1991, I joined the newly formed GNS Science. I took on the specialist role of co-ordinating the volcano monitoring at that time and continued in that role until recently when I moved more into risk, hazard and communications related to geological hazards. The advent of technology has changed the job enormously.

What exactly does a volcanologist do?

Volcanology is a team effort, you need to cover geology, gas and water chemistry, geophysics, electronics and social science. So I work within a team of 14 who all contribute to our understanding of volcanoes and geothermal systems. My job is related to volcano observations, geology, building and maintaining seismographs, geothermal monitoring and ground deformation measurements. Recently I have focused on working with agencies responding to geological hazards and sharing our science with them.

Is it a dangerous job?

There are dangers with any outdoor work. Often driving or flying to a location can be more dangerous than the work there. There are always unexpected risks.

Is it a job that takes you around the world?

Yes, I have been very fortunate to travel with my work. Firstly carrying out assessments of volcanic activity for nations with little or no capability, mainly in the south west Pacific and attending scientific meetings in locations impacted by large volcanic eruptions.

Were you involved in the emergency response for Christchurch?

I had little input to the Christchurch response, it was handled by the GeoNet team from Wellington and earthquake-orientated researchers in GNS. I was involved in the 1987 Edgecumbe and the 1990 Lake Tennyson responses.

Are you still in awe of nature's power?

Very much so, the impact of a large volcanic eruption or earthquake leaves a strong impression. Particularly watching in near "real time" the impacts and effects of the recent large earthquake in Japan. This combined the advances in technology and the "power" of nature in a way that was inconceivable 25 years ago.

In New Zealand are we as prepared as we could be for a natural disaster? volcanic activity?

Generally, New Zealanders have a very high awareness of the geological hazards (volcano, earthquake, tsunami), but we are not so good at personal preparedness. The Civil Defence and Emergency Management "industry" has grown up considerably in the last decade.

Tell us three things about yourself that people wouldn't normally know.

Judy and I lived in Papua New Guinea (Rabaul) when we first got married; I've held many technical and administrative roles with the NZ Trailer Yacht Association and Yachting NZ; I've done a summer season in Antarctica (Vanda Station) and made two other visits as part of research teams working on Mt Erebus.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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