Colin Rowell

Postdoctoral Fellow Geophysics

NSERC CGSD Scholar, EOAS Climate Emergency Committee member

EOS-Main 302

I study the dynamics of large atmospheric plumes (think volcanic eruptions and wildfires), as well as their potential impacts on climate. In particular, I'm interested in the role of water (gas, liquid, and solid) in influencing the physics and chemistry of rising clouds, and feedback effects between plumes, clouds, and the sources of heat and mass that drive them (yep, volcanoes and wildfires). In each of these cases, the emphasis is on understanding how varying behaviors produce different hazards and impacts - whether it's dangerous pyroclastic flows at volcanoes or erratic wildfire behavior threatening communities near the source, or downwind impacts on air quality, aviation safety, or global climate as clouds disperse. I tackle these problems using combinations of numerical models, remote sensing, and machine learning techniques.

Currently, I am focused on two major projects:

  1. How our ability to forecast the spread of wildfires is impacted by deep atmospheric convection, whereby fires create their own local weather systems that confound modeling efforts.
  2. How the physics of ash columns interact with the response of glaciers and glacial flooding during subglacial volcanic eruptions.

Past projects of interest include:

  1. I developed models models of particle and water-rich plumes to show that the climate impacts of water-rich eruptions, like the powerful eruption of the shallow submarine volcano, Hunga-Tonga Hunga-Ha'apai in 2022, are likely to be inherently very different from those of "dry" or purely magmatic eruptions. 
  2. Using thermal infrared video imagery of volcanic ash plumes, I developed an algorithm that uses spectral clustering (a form of unsupervised machine learning) to track time-evolving turbulent vortices as they rise from the volcanic vent.  Tracking evolving behavior in time enables is teaching us key principles for interpreting plume behavior in real-time from monitoring data, since many large atmospheric convective events evolve rapidly between difference styles of behavior.
  3. 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.

Outside of my research roles, I also served as a founding member of the EOAS Department committee responsible for engaging with the UBC Climate Emergency Response plan.

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. I have continued to teach some of these programs by request ever since.
  • In 2019, I co-lectured EOSC 340 Global Climate Change, a flagship course on the science of climate change in the EOAS department.

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

  • Physics of Global Climate Change
  • 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.