The Scientist Calming Us Down During Volcanic Eruptions

Michael Poland first visited Yellowstone National Park on a family reunion camping trip when he was a boy. Little did he know that one day, he’d be in charge of studying the park’s volcanic activity and reassuring the general public that a massive eruption of the violent supervolcano beneath Yellowstone is not something we need to be actively worried about.

In 2002, Poland started his first job as a staff scientist for the the U.S. Geological Survey at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington. In 2004, he was part of the team that responded to the reawakening of Mount St. Helens, traveling to the volcano to make on-the-ground observations and consult with local emergency responders. He then spent a decade working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In September 2017, Poland took on a new role as the scientist-in-charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. The Yellowstone Volcano Observatory is unique in that it doesn't have a main station in the Yellowstone region—instead, there's a vast array of instruments throughout Yellowstone constantly recording data that can be accessed online. A team of scientists monitors the data remotely, led by Poland, who does his work from the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver.

With the current eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea, Poland is helping out with response efforts there, too. We called him up just before he hopped a flight to Hawaii to talk about what the media is getting wrong about Kilauea’s eruption and why the public is so fearful of volcanic catastrophe.

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