Confessions of a volcano junkie 

By Wendy Smith

While the rest of us were tucking ourselves into bed this summer, one professor was laying out his sleeping bag on an unlikely mattress: the most active volcano in the world.

Chris DeVries, of the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, spent 10 days in June with a team of three geology students from across Canada visiting Mt. Stromboli and Mt. Etna in Italy.

“There’s something about sleeping on an active volcano,” says DeVries. “It’s dynamic and unpredictable, such a large-scale force compared to you. You put up your tent knowing it could erupt at any time. Even if an eruption isn’t likely, there’s always a sense of unease.”

Chris DeVries in front of Mt. Stromboli in Italy Magnifying glass

Chris DeVries in front of Mt. Stromboli in Italy

It’s a a profession whose occupational hazards include inhaling poisonous gases and being struck by bits of flying molten rock known in geology parlance as “blocks and bombs.” There’s also the possibility of getting lost, stranded, or buried in a landslide. Several prominent volcanologists have died in the course of their fieldwork.

Although DeVries and his team camped out in full view of the active craters on Mt. Etna, they didn’t witness any actual eruptions.

“It’s the Murphy’s Law of volcanology that you always arrive one day after an eruption or leave the day before,” he jokes. But the group was still able to observe the hallmarks of volcanic activity: plumes of sulphur dioxide gas escaping from craters, and solidified blocks and bombs from the most recent eruptive episode.

DeVries teaches an introductory course in plate tectonics at Concordia, but for him, volcanology is more than just a vocation — it’s “an addiction.” The first time he ever witnessed an eruption, he was hooked. He remembers the cloying heat, the distinctive smell of sulphur, the Rice Krispies-like popping of lava crystallizing. “It’s a life-changing experience.”

The self-described volcano junkie does plan on hosting more expeditions to South America and Indonesia, and hopes to bring interested Concordia students along for the ride.


Concordia University