Colin Rowell

PhD Geophysics

NSERC CGSD Scholar, EOAS Climate Emergency Committee member

EOS-Main 302

I study volcanic eruption plumes, and their eventual impact on climate. In particular, I'm interested in the role of water (gas, liquid, and solid) in influencing the physics and chemistry of rising eruption clouds. These properties in turn directly control the ability of volcanic plumes to deliver ash and climate-altering gases to the upper atmosphere. Water is incorporated into volcanic plumes in three distinct ways: as dissolved water already present in magma, as vapour in the ambient atmosphere, or as surface water that comes into contact with erupting magma, such as a lake, ocean, or glacier. We know that volcanic eruptions can have large impacts on global climate - can local climate, particularly the hydrosphere, in turn influence eruption behaviour, creating local or global feedbacks?

As a volcanic plume rises, it draws in and mixes with the surrounding atmosphere through a process called entrainment. As a result of this mixing, the plume may cool very rapidly as it rises, which results in the condensation and freezing of water vapour in the plume. This process not only changes the thermal properties of the plume, but also leads to a very complex mixture of gases, liquid droplets, and solid particles in the plume, which interact with each other physically (eg, collisions, sticking together, breaking apart), chemically (eg. gas absorption onto ash particles) and thermally (heat exchange between particles and liquid and gas phases). Using both of observations of volcanic eruptions (video, thermal imagery, etc) and numerical modelling of plumes, I aim to understand how the relative amount of water in the plume changes the height and distribution of resulting volcanic clouds. This information is in turn useful in understanding how these clouds will spread in the atmosphere, affecting local populations, air traffic, and global climate.

I am also a member of the EOAS Department committee responsible for engaging with the UBC Climate Emergency Response.

Prior to arriving at UBC, my background was in acoustics, seismology, and signal processing. During my Master's degree I worked with members of the Alaska Volcano Observatory to understand and interpret the sound waves generated by explosive volcanic eruptions. I also worked as a consultant in oil and gas reservoir characterization, performing geophysical inversion of seismic and well-log data.

When I'm not researching volcanic eruptions and volcano-climate interaction, I teach topics in climate science and climate change in the Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (EOAS).

  • In 2020/2021 I was employed as part of a UBC pilot program for interdisciplinary climate teaching, the Climate Teaching Connector, for which I taught climate science and complex systems thinking.
  • In 2019, I co-lectured EOSC 340 Global Climate Change, a flagship course on the science of climate change in the EOAS department.
  • I currently continue as a TA for EOSC 340 Global Climate Change

I also have broad experience as a teaching assistant across a range of earth sciences courses, including:

  • Computational methods for geophysics and geological engineers
  • Data analysis techniques in earth science, including statistics and machine learning
  • Scientific reading and writing
  • Natural disasters
  • Introductory geology and geophysics

Refereed Publications

Rowell, C.R., Jellinek, A.M., Hajimirza, S., Aubry, T.J., in review. External surface water influence on explosive eruption dynamics and column rise, with implications for stratospheric sulfur delivery and volcano-climate feedback, in External Forcing on Volcanoes and Volcanic Processes: Observations, Analysis and Implications. Frontiers in Earth Science.

Aubry, T., Farquharson, J., Rowell, C., Watt, S., Pinel, V., Beckett, F., Fasullo, J., Hopcroft, P., Pyle, D., Schmidt, A., Staunton-Sykes, J., in review. Impact of climate change on volcanic processes: recent progress and future directions. Bulletin of Volcanology.

Rowell, C.R., Fee, D., Szuberla, C.A.L., Arnoult, K., Matoza, R.S., Firstov, P.P., Kim, K., Makhmudov, E., 2014. Three-dimensional volcano-acoustic source localization at Karymsky Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

McKee, K., Fee, D., Rowell, C., Yokoo, A., 2014. Network-based evaluation of the infrasonic source location at Sakurajima Volcano, Japan. Seismological Research Letters.

Non-refereed Articles and Presentations

Rowell, C., Jellinek, M., Gilchrist, J., Tracking time-dependent eruption source unsteadiness and local entrainment in ground-based thermal imagery using spectral-clustering. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. San Francisco, USA. Dec 2020. Poster presentation.

Rowell, C., Jellinek, M., Transient and Unsteady Eruptions at Sabancaya Volcano, Peru. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. San Francisco, USA. Dec 2019. Oral Presentation.

Rowell, C., Jellinek, M., Investigating plume dynamics using ground-based thermal infrared imagery at Sabancaya Volcano, Peru. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Washington DC. Dec 2018. Poster Presentation.

Rowell, C., Glaciation, climate change, and phreatomagmatism: How does plume water content influence sulfur aerosol dispersion and ultimately, climate-forcing? Convective and Volcanic Cloud Training School. Tarquinia, Italy. Oct 2017. Poster Presentation.

Rowell, C., Jellinek, M., Deconstructing the murky world of ground-coupled airwaves
through the dark art of principle component analysis. IAVCEI 2017 General Scientific
Assembly, Portland, OR, USA. Aug 2017. Poster Presentation.

Rowell, C., Cho, D., Mutual, M. How to create mis-ties beneath the Mannville Coals.
GeoConvention 2015, Calgary, Canada. May 2015. Oral Presentation.

Rowell, C., Fee, D., Szuberla, C.A.L., Arnoult, K., Matoza, R.S., Lopez, T., Firstov, P.P.,
Makhmudov, E., Three-dimensional acoustic source localization of explosion and degassing
events at Karymsky Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia. IAVCEI 2013 General Scientific Assembly,
Kagoshima, Japan. July 2013. Poster Presentation.

Rowell, C., Pidlisecky, A., Irving, J., Ferguson, R., Imaging lava tubes using ground penetrating
radar. University of Calgary Undergraduate Research Symposium, Calgary,
Canada. November 2010. Poster Presentation.