SOLVE magazine Issue 02 2021 - Page 33

Canary Islands , was formed three million years ago by the fusion of three islands due to volcanic activity .
Today she remains fascinated by the power of volcanoes – how they can bring down humanity ’ s most advanced feats of engineering , a reminder of the built environment ’ s fragility compared to the forces of nature .
“ I ' m fascinated by how all our technologies and infrastructures – the things we rely on such as the internet – can be affected by natural disasters ; look at how air travel was disrupted by the Iceland ash cloud ,” she says .
THE MESSENGER Dr Solana ’ s complementary area of expertise involves converting data , such as hazard lava flow models and predictions , into usable information for emergency planners . Being able to communicate specific signs , forecasts and hazards helps people and authorities prepare , react and respond effectively .
“ We want to prevent or reduce damage , so we look at effects and likelihoods . Where and who ? How fast and when ?
“ And because forecasts are numbers , likelihoods and probabilities , this can make it difficult to form clear , practical directions . For example , if I tell you there ’ s a 10 per cent chance of an eruption affecting your village , would you judge this as a high or low percentage ? How do you make a decision with that data ?”
So Dr Solana ’ s work is also about improving how authorities inform and communicate : “ People don ’ t like to know too much about hazards and risks unless – or until – they ’ re directly affected . This can mean they go from wanting no information to suddenly wanting all the information – that ’ s not ideal in an emergency situation . So it ’ s vital to present information in ways that people find practical , acceptable , easy to follow [ and ] not too alarming .”
In addition to modelling volcanic hazards and helping to forecast their impacts , Dr Solana also investigates and evaluates the perceptions , effects and impacts of hurricanes and landslides . She was part of the team assembled by Professor Richard Teeuw , a specialist in remote sensing ( see page 20 for Professor Teeuw ' s story ), and that also included Toby Meredith , a specialist in drones , to undertake a major investigation into hurricane Maria , which struck the Caribbean in 2017 .
The team examined the physical and psychological complexities of the disaster – which areas fared better or worse , and why – including the consequences of decisions people made and subsequent lessons learned .
“ The unpredictable nature of natural disasters and people means one wrong decision can have huge consequences . There ’ s a lot of responsibility and pressure on scientists when it comes to mitigation – especially if things go wrong ,” Dr Solana says .
However , she says that at the end of the day the research that scientists undertake , and the effectiveness with which this translates into good planning and effective action , is about saving lives and reducing fear .
When Dr Solana was a child , 25,000 people died in mudflows resulting from an eruption in Colombia . A little girl was stuck in mud for two days and slowly died . “ I was so shocked that with all our technology they couldn ’ t save the little girl . This opened my eyes to the impact that volcanoes can have and was a big influence on my decision to make volcanology my life ’ s work .”
Tourists inside the White Island volcano that erupted on 9 December 2019 .
I ' m fascinated by how all our technologies and infrastructures – the things we rely on such as the internet – can be affected by natural disasters .
– Carmen Solana
ISSUE 02 / 2021