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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: August 2013 to February 2015
 

 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
 
During October and November 2013, the project team prepared for its work by organizing quality control and project management meetings. Team members also registered for the on-line collaborative website VHub.org, reading all information about specific volcanic phenomena hazard simulation codes and their available documentation. The team studied and sampled lava flows within the Ararat Valley and Yerevan and adjacent volcanic systems such as the Aragats volcanic province and the Gegham volcanic ridge. The major task for sampling involves detailed geochemistry and Ar-Ar dating, and the project team has selected 14 samples for Ar-Ar dating in first half of 2014. Several tephra and lava samples have been already analyzed for major and trace elements at the Armenian National Academy of Sciences and at the University of Leeds.
 
 
   Armenia Partnership Picture B
Closeup of a pumice deposit from the eruption of the Ararat Volcano, near the village of Landjar (Photo courtesy Dr. Meliksetian)
   Armenia Partnership Picture C
Cross-section of lahar deposits at the slopes of the Tsakhkasar Dacite Volcano, located southwest of Aragats Volcano (Photo courtesy Dr. Meliksetian)
 
The project team is expecting to continue fieldwork as soon as weather allows. The students will continue mapping volcanic features, studying key outcrops and gathering samples. Future plans include visits by two project team members to the University of South Florida to work with U.S. collaborator Charles Connor during the first half of June 2014. That same month, Dr. Meliksetian and his group also plan to host an international volcanic hazards workshop.
 
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