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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Volcanic hazard assessment of the Ararat Valley, Armenia

PI: Khachatur Meliksetian (Institute of Geological Sciences, Armenian National Academy of Sciences) 
U.S. Partner: Charles Connor (University of South Florida)
Project Dates: September 2013 to August 2016
 

 Uganda Partnership Picture A
A look at the Vayk region adjacent to the Ararat Valley. The Smbatasar volcano (rear) dates back to the Holocene Age. A lava flow is present in the left front (Photo courtesy Dr. Meliksetian).

Armenia is situated in a region of copious Quaternary-Holocene-Historical volcanism, and its capital, Yerevan, the capital, is located in the Ararat Valley, adjacent to the foothills of the Gegham upland and the Aragats and Ararat volcanoes. Geologic evidence indicates the possibility of future volcanic eruptions from one or more of these volcanic systems. When such eruptions occur, Yerevan and surrounding areas will be at significant risk from a variety of volcanic phenomena and accompanying seismic activity, yet to date there have been no analyses of this risk. This project aims to undertake systematic geological and probabilistic studies developed with U.S. colleagues. The scientific goal is to link geologic observations of the products of volcanic eruptions (volcanic ash deposits, lava flows, and pyroclastic density currents) with numerical simulations of volcanic eruptions. The previous work of the Armenian researchers involved has shown that magmas in this region erupt at higher temperature and with fewer volatiles than most magmas on Earth, due to the plate tectonic setting. This means that the rheology of the magma is significantly different and these differences must be accounted for in hazard models. Their research will therefore not only result in a robust hazard assessment for the Ararat Valley, including Yerevan, but will also be a significant test of hazard models used around the world. 
 
The ultimate aim of this project is to improve all natural hazard assessment in Armenia, and make Armenia a regional locus for this type of natural hazard assessment, which is critical to virtually every nation in the region. One of the major tasks for this project is to involve the Armenian research team in a currently active cyberinfrastructure project (VHub.org, funded by NSF award number 0940839) related to volcanic hazard code development. The idea is to incorporate Armenian volcanism into the VHub project, share volcanic hazard modelling codes with the Armenian team, and train personnel, including young scientists, to use and apply the codes for assessing volcanic hazards in Armenia. VHub.org resources will be utilized and additional VHub tools developed to simulate specific phenomena, such as volcanic ash fallout and lava flows, used to estimate the probability that such phenomena would affect the Ararat Valley. The team will also develop recommendations for policymakers concerning volcanic hazards in the region. These recommendations may include topics of public education and outreach based on project results, recommendations about volcano monitoring, including the need for international collaborative efforts to monitor the Ararat volcano system, development of guidelines for development of emergency response to volcano crises, and dissemination of results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
 
Summary of Recent Activities
 
Dr. Khachatur Meliksetian made a presentation at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly (EGU-2016), held in Vienna April 16-23, 2016. This was a valuable opportunity to share information about his recent findings, as EGU is one of the world’s largest geoscience conferences, welcoming more than 13,000 scientists from 109 countries this year. While in Vienna for the conference, the PI also had the opportunity to stop by the International Seismic Safety Center of the International Atomic Energy Agency (ISSC IAEA) on April 19. This meeting was requested by IAEA experts and the new head of ISSC IAEA. During 2012-2014, Dr. Meliksetian was part of an IAEA team of experts on volcanic hazards for nuclear installations that developed the IAEA TECDOC Volcanic Hazard Assessment for Nuclear Installations: Methods and Examples in Site Evaluation, an official IAEA publication published as an addition to IAEA Safety Guide SSG-21. Four experts involved in developing the TECDOC who were in Vienna for EGU-2016 participated in the meeting in ISSC IAEA. Besides discussions related to the publication of the TECDOC, Dr. Meliksetian also presented information on the development of recommendations to the Armenian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ANRA) regarding volcanic hazards to the Armenian Nuclear Power Plant (ANPP), as the absence of national regulations and standards on volcanic hazards was highlighted by an IAEA review mission to Armenia in 2011. IAEA officials mentioned the importance of developing these recommendations and expressed satisfaction that the comments of the 2011 IAEA review mission to Armenia are being addressed. Recommendations on development of a policy document related to volcanic hazards facing ANPP represent an important task under the current PEER project. These recommendations are currently in draft form and will be completed prior to the project’s termination date, August 31, 2016.

Another important outreach event this past quarter was Dr. Meliksetian’s talk on volcanic hazards assessment for ANPP, which he presented at a meeting at ANRA June 21, 2016. This meeting was convened as part of a scheduled European Union stress test mission to Armenia. Participants included EU mission experts and representatives of the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Armenia, ANRA, and ANPP. During his talk, the PI outlined an early draft of recommendations to ANRA regarding volcanic hazards that have been developed as part of the PEER project. Participants in the meeting agreed to continue research on volcanic hazards and establish collaboration among all interested parties.

On the research side of the project, the PI reports that in May 2016 he and his team received the first batch of 12 40Ar/39Ar dates from Oregon State University (OSU). The costs of these radiometric age determinations of key volcanic units of Armenia were covered partially by PEER grant funds and partially through the generous allocation of support by Dr. Anthony Koppers, director of the OSU Geochronology Lab. Some of the dates obtained on plagioclase phenocrysts turned out to be older than expected. Dr. Meliksetian and Dr. Koppers have agreed that the analysis will be repeated on fiamme and/or groundmass of the samples in question. A third and final workshop on the project is planned for early August, and the team will also work on its final report, final recommendations to local policy makers, and a research article on their findings.

Links to Recent Publications

Abstract presented at EGU-2016 in Vienna, April 16-23, 2016

Abstract presented at EGU-2015 in Vienna, April 12-18, 2015

Article on development of a conceptual model of volcanism for the Ararat valley region, published in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
 
 
Armenia Partnership Picture B
An outcrop of argavand lava in the Hrazdan River Gorge near Yerevan (Photo courtesy Dr. Meliksetian)
2-323 Team in the Mountains
Krzysztof Sokół, Ivan Savov, Patrick Sugden, and Khachatur Meliksetian during the September 2015 workshop. (Photo courtesy Dr. Meliksetian)
 
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