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New Scientist-in-Charge at the Alaska Volcano Observatory
Released: 4/4/2016 2:00:00 PM

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Portrait of Michelle Coombs
USGS geologist Michelle Coombs has been appointed Scientist-In-Charge of the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The U.S. Geological Survey is pleased to announce the selection of Dr. Michelle Coombs as the next Scientist-in-Charge of the Alaska Volcano Observatory, a cooperative program of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. Coombs succeeds John Power, who served as AVO SIC for the past five years and will now rotate to an AVO staff geophysicist position. 

“Michelle brings an especially strong research background in volcano geology in addition to her eruption response work. She also has strong ties to Alaska, starting with her graduate work in Katmai and her Ph.D. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We are lucky to have her come into the SIC position,” said Tom Murray, Director of the USGS Volcano Science Center, which oversees the five U.S. volcano observatories

Following her time as an undergraduate student at Williams College in Massachusetts, Coombs traveled northwest to study at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her interest in volcanoes drew her to study the causes behind the 1953-1968 eruptions of the Southwest Trident Volcano in Katmai National Park.

After receiving her doctorate in geology in 2001, she began a postdoctoral position with the USGS in Menlo Park, California. There, she studied landslide hazards and evolution of Hawaiian volcanoes until 2004 when she returned to Alaska to join AVO. 

As a research geologist at AVO, Coombs participated in the responses to the 2006 and 2009 eruptions of Augustine and Redoubt in Alaska’s Cook Inlet. She has also studied the evolution and hazards of volcanoes along the expanse of Alaska’s Aleutian arc, from Semisopochnoi and other western islands, to Hayes Volcano in the easternmost arc, near Anchorage. 

Alaska is a volcanically active region, experiencing one to two eruptions per year. As SIC at AVO, Coombs will have a prominent role in communicating these hazards to the public. 

“I wish to thank John Power for his guidance as AVO SIC these past five plus years. During his tenure he effectively dealt with the serious complications of threatened and real government shutdowns and a budget sequestration. Throughout he kept AVO functioning at a high level and moving forward,” said Murray. 

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