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Under the volcano

Dr John Murray

Ian Donnelly pays tribute to OU volcanologist John Murray

Geoscientist 20.01 January 2010

Friday 9 October 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of Dr John Murray’s first day of fieldwork on Mt Etna. John, a volcanologist based at the Open University, has devoted his life to the study of Etna’s ground deformation and topography. Mt Etna, Sicily, is Europe’s highest and most active volcano, reaching approximately 3320m above sea level. It has a long and complex recorded history of activity since the dawn of European civilisation. Notable recent eruptions occurred in 1971, 1974, 1981, 1983, 1991-1993, 2001, 2002-3 & 2008-9, and all have been investigated by Dr Murray.

To mark this auspicious occasion, John invited his (180-odd!) past field assistants to celebrate in Sicily on his 70th visit to the volcano since 1969. More than 30 volcanologists and geologists travelled from different parts of the world and congregated in the small town of Nicolosi, situated on the southern flank of Etna. From here many of them climbed to the edge of the central crater at the summit.

This day gave the opportunity for many old friends to meet and to exchange memories, experiences, stories and events that had made their work with John on Mt Etna in years gone by so memorable and rewarding. The celebrations continued long into the evening in Nicolosi where John gave a presentation on his work and experiences over the past few decades.

John’s dedication to the investigation of Mt Etna is unrivalled. He has undertaken this work with infectious enthusiasm and in doing so has inspired an entire generation of volcanologists and geologists, many of whom subsequently went on to develop their own careers in volcanology, earth sciences and geohazards throughout the rest of the world.

John, on behalf of your friends and colleagues we are truly grateful to you for having given us opportunities, experiences and wonderful memories. Many congratulations on this incredible achievement; it was an honour to attend this reunion in Sicily in recognition of your outstanding, distinguished contributions to volcanology and in particular our understanding of Mt Etna.