Deadly Science

A sudden and fatal eruption in Colombia shows again that volcanology is tragically imprecise

What little volcanologists have learned over the centuries has come at a fearsome price. Beginning in A.D. 79, when the Roman scientist Pliny the Elder was killed while observing an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, volcanology has been one of the world's more dangerous fields of study. Over the past 11 years, sudden eruptions -- including major blasts in Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines -- have killed an estimated 26,000 people; since 1979 at least 12 scientists have perished while seeking to plumb the fiery mysteries.

Last month, to improve methods for predicting eruptions and thus save lives, 90 scientists from around...

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