Steven Carey

  • Emeritus Professor of Oceanography
  • Marine Geology and Geophysics
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Dr. Steven Carey seems to have a perfect blend–a fascinating occupation conducted in some of the most beautiful spots on Earth.

“I am concerned with the physical properties of volcanoes, why do they erupt, what happens when they erupt, what controls their style and behavior, and in particular what are the hazards?” says the oceanographer.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Carey says he was always interested in outside activities. “I hiked in the White Mountains, love the outdoors and became interested in geology.” He enrolled at UMass in geology took one course in marine geology and was hooked on the idea that the science on plate tectonics was emerging from studies on the ocean floor.

He applied to URI for graduate school and his mentor was a volcanologist from Iceland. While in grad school, Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 and Carey had the opportunity to visit the site one week after the blast.

“We hiked into this area and the blast zone was an epiphany for me. I had never seen the raw force of nature. When you stood there it was like being at ground zero of an atomic blast. That was when I decided this was really what I wanted to study.”

While Carey has conducted research on land volcanoes, most of his work as an oceanographer has been underwater where three-quarters of Earth’s volcanoes lie. He says his most interesting project thus far is studying the Kolumbo volcano in the Aegean Sea.

“It is a beautiful place to work,” he admits, “compared to something like the Aleutians—I guess I know how to pick them.”

Kolumbo last erupted in 1650 and caused tsunamis and a lot of volcanic damage. It lies just 7 kilometers from the popular tourist island of Santorini. In the warm months, the island has a population of one million and a new eruption would pose great danger to human life.

Carey first explored this sub-surface volcano in 2006, aboard the R/V Endeavor using Dr. Robert Ballard’s remotely operated vehicle , Hercules. The study is ongoing. Kolumbo is still active and judging by the amount of seismic activity in the region, could erupt again. One plan calls for instruments to be placed on the ocean floor to monitor conditions, he says.

His other area of research happens to be in another tourist mecca—the West Indies where he has led several explorations aboard the Nautilus. This location and the one in the Aegean are similar in that they are areas where two tectonic plates are coming together.

One expedition took advantage of the telepresence system located in GSO’s Inner Space Center. There scientists and students could sit in front of giant monitors and watch the live undersea exploration in the West Indies. In this way they take part in the exploration remotely via live feeds of shipboard and submersible operations. Part of the mission is designed to analyze how telepresence functions and how to make it better. To this end educational and cultural specialists called “ethnologists” are involved to study the telepresence system and humans interact with it, says Carey. (The Inner Space Center at GSO serves as the hub for live video and data feeds coming from the ship. The signals are then sent out to other smaller centers at other institutions where other shore-side scientists are based.)

Two volcanoes in the West Indies are called “Kick’em Jenny and Kick’em Jack.” The word “jenny” means mule down there, says Carey. Kick’em Jenny is in an area where the strong currents of the Carribean and the Atlantic converge and local fishermen who work in that area say sometimes the waves are so strong it’s like being kicked by a mule.

The last time Kick’em Jenny erupted was in 2001, but because its depth was at 200 meters below the surface, little damage occurred. The volcano is tiny compared to others scientists find fascinating such as the hotspot lying under Yellowstone National Park. “When that erupts, the scale will be nothing like we ever witnessed before,” says Carey.

Another huge volcanic blast in Sumatra 75,000 years ago has given rise to some intriguing theories. Some believe the volcanic cloud produced by the eruption ushered in an ice age, which in turn created a “bottleneck” in human evolution. The result, says Carey, could have been a narrowing of genetic diversity and a population decline to 10,000—close to an extinction.

Those are the phenomena that keep vocanologists like Carey enthralled with their life’s work.


Marine Geology and Geophysics

Hydrothermal vents, Ocean exploration, Sedimentology, Volcanism.

Over the years my research has focused primarily on the processes of explosive volcanism and the interpretation of the deposits that are produced in both the terrestrial and marine environments. One of the main objectives of the work has been to utilize quantitative models of particle dispersal and deposition to produce methods for the interpretation of eruption dynamics based on grain size and other types of measurements collected from deposits in the geologic record. We have modified existing computer models for the atmospheric dispersal of volcanic ash in order to investigate the factors that control the formation of widespread volcanic ash layers that form important chronostratigraphic horizons in marine sediments and terrestrial sequences. The approach has been to simulate the dispersal of volcanic ash from several well-documented historic eruptions where various parameters such as the regional wind field, eruption column height, depositional area, and eruption duration are known. An important finding of the work is that there appears to be a strong control of the tropopause as a level where horizontal advection of particles is maximized, even for eruptions that inject particles to much higher levels. This finding has significant implications for short-term predictions of volcanic hazards to aviation associated with volcanic ash in the atmosphere.
I have also had a long-standing interest in the formation of submarine volcaniclastic deposits around island arc environments and the environmental consequences of rapid influx of volcanic material into the subaqueous realm. In particular, I have been involved with numerous studies dealing with the voluminous discharge of hot, pyroclastic flows into the sea from large-scale explosive eruptions. This catastrophic process is known to be an important mechanism for producing destructive tsunamis as shown by the 1883 eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia when 35,000 people along the coasts of Sumatra and Java lost their lives as a result of eruption-generated tsunamis. Based on the recognition of submarine deposits using seismic reflection profiles our work had led to a better understanding of the magnitude and volume of these event and provide important input parameters for tsunami modeling efforts.
Most recently I have devoted significant efforts to developing models of submarine explosive volcanic processes based on field observations and the collection of samples from well-documented submarine eruptions. We have been studying a unique sequence of pumice deposits in the crater walls of Kolumbo submarine volcano in the Aegean Sea that was produced by an eruption in 1650 AD. Data and samples were collected by remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) on cruises of the R/V Endeavor and E/V Nautilus. The study of submarine explosive volcanism is one of the exciting, new frontiers in the field of volcanology. With new observational technologies, such as ROVs with high resolution (cm-scale) bathymetric mapping capabilities, there are tremendous opportunities to collect unique observations about submarine volcanic processes and the types of deposits that they leave in the geological record.


Ph.D. Geological Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 1983

B.S. Geology University of Massachusetts, 1975

Selected Publications

Carey, S., R. Olsen, K. L.C. Bell, R. Ballard, F. Dondin, C. Roman, C. Smart, M. Lilley, J. Lupton, B. Seibel, W. Cornell, and C. Moyer, Hydrothermal venting and mineralization in the crater of Kick’em Jenny submarine volcano, Grenada (Lesser Antilles), Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., 17, 1000–1019, doi:10.1002/2015GC006060, 2016.

Carey, S., Fisher, C., Salinas de Leon, P., Roman, C., Raineault, N., Suarez, J., Smart, C., Kane, R., Tuzun, S., Balcanoff, J., Lubetkin, M., Jones, M., Schwartz, D., Fornari, D., Soule, A., Watling, L., Ballard, R.D. Exploring the Undersea World of the Galapagos Islands. Oceanography, v. 29 (1), 32.34, 2016.

Klaver, M., Carey, S., Nomikou, P., Smet, I., Godelitsas, A., Vroon, P. A distinct source and differentiation history for the Kolumbo submarine volcano, Santorini volcanic field, Aegean. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst., (in review), 2016.

Phillips, B., Dunbabin, M., Henning, B., Howell, C., DeCiccio, A., Flinders, A., Kelley, K., Scott, J., Albert, S., Carey, S., Tsadok, R., Grinham, A. Exploring the “Sharkcano”: Biogeochemical observations of the Kavachi submarine volcano (Solomon islands). Nature Sci. Reports (in review), 2016.

Nomikou, P., Druitt, T., Hubscher, C., Mather, T., Paulatto, M., Kalnins, L., Kelfoun, K., Papanikolaou, D, Bejelou, K., Lampridou, D., Pyle, D., Carey, S., Watts, A., Parks, M. Catastrophic flooding of Santorini calddera (Greece) following the late Bronze-Age eruption. Nature Communications (in revision), 2016.

Carey, S. and Bursik, M. Volcanic Plumes (Chapter 32). Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, 2nd Edition, Elsevier, San Francisco, CA, p. 571-585, 2015.

Carey, S., Bell, K.L.C., Roman, C., Dondin, F., Robertson, R., Gobin, J., Wankel, S., Michel, A., Amon, D., Marsh, L., Smart, C., Vaughn, I., Ball, B., Rodrigue, K., Haldeman, M., George, A., Ballard, R.D. Exploring Kick’em Jenny submarine volcano and the Barbados cold seep province, southern Lesser Antilles. Oceanography, v. 28 (1), p. 38-40, 2015.

Watt, S., Jutzeler, M., Talling, P., Carey, S., Sparks, R.S.J., Tucker, M., Stinton, A., Fisher, J., Wall-Palmer, D., Huhnerback, V. and Moreton, S. New Insights into the Nature of Debris-Avalanche Deposits Offshore Montserrat using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Geochem. Geophys. Geosys., 16, 2240–2261,
doi:10.1002/2015GC005781, 2015.

Carey, S., Ballard, R., Croff Bell, K., Bell, R., Connally, P., Dondin, F., Fuller, S., Gobin, J., Miloslavich, P., Roman, C., Seibel, B., Siu, N., and Smart,C.. Cold Seeps Associated with a Submarine Debris Avalanche Deposit at Kick’em Jenny Volcano, Grenada (Lesser Antilles). Deep Sea Research, v. 93, p. 156-160, 2014.

Cantner, K., Carey, S., and Nomikou, P. Volcanologic and Petrologic Analysis of the 1650 AD eruption of Kolumbo submarine volcano, Greece. Jour. Volc. Geotherm. Res., v. 269, p. 28-43, 2014.

Carey, S., Croff Bell, K., Sparks, S., Sinton, A., Ausubel, J., Phillips, B., Raineault, N., Siu, N., Fandel, C., Graham, O., Ramsingh, H., Blake, R., Auscavitch, S., Demopoulos, A. Impact of Volcanic Eruptions on the Seafloor around Montserrat, West Indies. Oceanography, v. 27 (1), p. 36-37, 2014.

Carey, S., Croff Bell, K., Ballard, R., Roman, C., Dondin, F., Miloslavich, P., Gobin, J., Seibel, B., Bell, R., Smart,C., Fuller, S., Siu, N., Connally, P., Blake, R., Wishner, K., and Phillips, B. Fluid/Gas Venting and Biological Communities at Kick’em Jenny Submarine Volcano, Grenada (West Indies). Oceanography, v. 27 (1), p. 38-41, 2014.

Engwell, S., Sparks, R.S.J. and Carey, S. Physical characteristics of tephra layers in the deep sea realm: the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption. In: Marine Tephrochronology (Abbott et al., eds) Geological Society of London Special Publications , v. 398, p.2-19, doi 10.1144/SP398.7, 2014.

Johnston, E., Sparks, R.S.J., Phillips, J.C., and Carey, S., 2014. Revised estimates for the volume of the Late Bronze Age Minoan eruption, Santorini, Greece. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lond.,

Kelly, J., Carey, S. Croff Bell, K., Roman, C., Rosi, M., Marani, M., and Pistolesi, M., 2014. Exploration of the 1891 Foerstner submarine vent site (Pantelleria, Italy): insights into the formation of basaltic balloons. Bull. Volc.v. 76, p. 844-862, DOI 10.1007/s00445-014-0844-4, 2014.

Nomikou, P., Parks, M., Papanikolaou, D., Pyle, D., Mather, T., Carey, S., Watts, A., Paulatto, M., Kalnins, M., Livanos, I., Bejelou, K., Simou, E., and Perros, I. The emergence and growth of a submarine volcano: The Kameni islands, Santorini (Greece). Geo. Res. Jour., v. 1 (2), p. 8-18, 2014.

Carey, S., Nomiku, P., Croff Bell, K., and Ballard, R., Exploration of the Santorini Volcanic Group, Southern Aegean Sea. Oceanography, v. 26 (1), p. 40-44, 2013.

Smart, C., Roman, C., and Carey, S. Detection of diffuse seafloor venting using structured light imaging. Geochem. Geophys. Geosys., v. 14, p. 4742-4757, doi:10.1002/ggge.20280. 2013

Carey, S., Nomikou, P., Croff Bell, K., Lilley, M., Lupton, J., Roman, C., Stathopoulos, E., Bejelou, K., and Ballard, R. CO2 Degassing from Hydrothermal Vents at Kolumbo Submarine Volcano, Greece and the Accumulation of Acidic Crater Water. Geology v. 41, p. 1035-1038, 2013.

Nomikou, P., Carey, S., Papanikolaou, D., Croff Bell, K., Sakellariou, D., Alexandri, M., and Bejelou, K Morphological Slope Analysis in the Kolumbo Submarine Volcanic Zone NE of Santorini Island. Zeitschrift fόr Geomorphologie , v. 57, p. 29-47, 2013.

Kandlbauer, J., Carey, S. and R.S.J. Sparks. The 1815 Tambora ash fall: implications for the transport and deposition of distal ash on land and in the deep sea. Bull Volc. 75:708, DOI10.007/s00445-013-0708-3, 2013.

Carey, S., Bell, K.L.C., Rosi, M., Marani, M., Nomiku, P., Walker, S., Faure, K., and Kelly, J. Submarine volcanoes of the Aeolian Arc, Tyrrhenian Sea. Oceanography, v. 25, no.1, p. 32-33, 2012.

Carey, S., Bell, K.L.C., , Marani, M., Rosi, M., Baker, E., Roman, C., Pistolesi, M. and Kelly, J. Submarine volcanism in the Straits of Sicily. Oceanography, v. 25, no.1, p. 34-35, 2012.

Kilias, S., Nomikou, P., Carey, S., Papanikolaou, D., Godelitsas, A., Argyraki, A., Polymenakou, P., Croff Bell, K., Roman, C. , Stathopoulou, E., Betzelou, K., Livanos, I., Gamaletsos, P., Goettlicher, J., Steininger, R., Christakis, C., and Mertzimekis, T. Kolumbo submarine volcano (Santorini, Hellenic Volcanic Arc): a unique geodynamic and bio-geochemical hydrothermal system. Nature Science Reports 3, 2421, 2012.

Nomikou, P., Carey, S., Papanikolaou, D., Croff Bell, K., Sakellariou, D., Alexandri, M., and Bejelou, K. Exploration of the submarine cones in the Kolumbo Submarine Volcanic Zone of the Hellenic Arc (Aegean Sea, Greece). Jour.Glob.& Planetary Change, doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2012.01.001, 2012.

Nomikou P., Carey S., Croff Bell K., Papanikolaou D., Bejelou K., Alexandri M., Cantner K. (2012): Tsunami Hazard Risk of a future volcanic eruption of Kolumbo submarine volcano, NE of Santorini Caldera, Greece. Natural Hazards, DOI 10.1007/s11069-012-0405-0, 2012.

Freidman, P., Carey, S., and Raessi, M. Influence of volatile degassing on initial flow structure and entrainment during undersea volcanic fire fountaining eruptions. Natural Sciences, v. 4, p. 1002-1012, 2012.

Croff Bell, K., Carey, S., Nomiku, P., Sigurdsson, H., and Sakellariou, D. Submarine evidence of a debris avalanche deposit on the eastern slope of Santorini. Tectonophysics, (in press, 2012).

Carey, S., Croff Bell, K., Nomikou, P., Vougioukalakis,G., Roman,C., Cantner, K., Bejelou,K., Bourbouli,M. and Martin, J.F. Kolumbo Volcanic Rift Zone (Aegean Sea, Greece). In: New Frontiers in Ocean Exploration, The E/V Nautilus 2010 Field Season. Special supplement to the journal Oceanography, vol. 24, no. 1, p. 25-25, 2011.

Carey, S. and J.L. Schneider. Volcaniclastic Processes and Deposits in the Deep-Sea. In: Deep Sea Sediments, Developments in Sedimentology 63, 467-516, Elsevier, 2011.

Kratzmann, D., Carey, S., Fero, J.,Scasso, R. and J. Naranjo. Simulations of tephra dispersal from the 1991 explosive eruptions of Hudson volcano, Chile. Journal of Volc. and Geotherm. Res.v. 190, 337-352, 2010.

Kratzmann, D., Carey, S., Scasso, R. and J. Naranjo. Role of cryptic amphibole crystallization in magma differentiation at Hudson volcano, southern volcanic zone, Chile. Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology DOI 10.1007/s00410-009-0426-1, 2009.

Fero, J., Carey, S., and J. Merrill. Simulating the dispersal of tephra from the 1991 Pinatubo eruption: implications for the formation of widespread ash layers. Journal of Volc. and Geotherm. Res. v.186, 120-131, 2009.

Durant, A., Rose, W., Sarna-Wojcicki, A., Carey, S., and A. Volentik. Hydrometer-enhanced tephra sedimentation from the 18 May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Journal of Geophysical Research DOI 10.1029JB005756R, 2008.

Fero, J., Carey, S., and J. Merrill. Simulation of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens using the ash-tracking model PUFF. Journal of Volc. and Geotherm. Res.v. 175, 355-366 2008.

Kratzmann, D., Carey, S., Scasso, R. and J. Naranjo. Compositional variations and magma mixing in the 1991 eruptions of Hudson volcano, Chile. Bulletin of Volcanology DOI 10.1007/s00445-008-0234-x, 2008.

Carey, S. and H. Sigurdsson. Exploring submarine arc volcanoes. Oceanography (Special Issue on Ocean Exploration), vol. 20, no.4, 80-90, 2007.

Maria, A. and Carey, S. Quantitative evaluation of magma fragmentation and pyroclastic transport processes using the Fractal Spectrum Technique. Journal of Volc. and Geotherm. Res. v. 161, 234-246, 2007.

Friedman, P., Meyer, W. and Carey, S. Experimental investigation of phase mingling mechanisms for a subaqueous volcanic eruption. Jour. Geophys. Res. v. 111, B07201, 1-14, 2006.

Hart, K., Carey, S., Sigurdsson, H., Sparks, R.S.J., Robertson, R. Discharge of pyroclastic flows into the sea during the 1996-1998 eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano, Montserrat. Bull. Volc. v. 66, 599-614, 2004.

Maria, A. and Carey, S. Using fractal analysis to quantitatively characterize the shapes of volcanic particles. Jour. Geophys. Res. 107, ECV 7 (1-13), 2002.

Carey, S., Morelli, D., Sigurdsson, H., and Bronto, S. Tsunami deposits from major explosive eruptions: an example from the 1883 eruption of Krakatau. Geology, vol. 29 ,347-350, 2001.
PRESENTATIONSCarey, S. Submarine Volcanoes: Crucibles of New Seafloor Mineral Deposits. GSO Friends of Oceanography Public Lecture, November 19, 2014.

Carey, S. Exploring Submarine Volcanoes: will the next gold rush be on the seafloor? Public talk at the Redwood Library and Atheneum, Newport, RI, October, 2012.

Carey, S. Fire and Water: The eruption of undersea volcanoes. Ocean Talk at the GSO Exploration Zone at the America’s Cup Race, Newport RI, June, 2012.

Carey, S. Telepresence exploration of Kolumbo Submarine Volcano. University of Massachusetts, Geoscience Departmental Seminar, March 2012.

Carey, S. Interpreting the impact of the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius on the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Museum of Science in Boston, October, 2011.

Carey, S. The great Bronze Age eruption of Santorini volcano, Greece: Impacts on the people of the Eastern Mediterranean. Invited speaker for the American Geological Institute Earthweek celebration at the Univerity of Tulsa, October, 2008.

Carey, S. and R. Scasso. International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior General Assembly 2004. Morphology and Formation of Glassy Volcanic Ash from the August 12-15, 1991 Eruption of Hudson Volcano, Chile.

Carey, S. Volcanoes and the Ocean: The meeting of two great forces. Naval War College lecture in August 2002, Newport, R.I.

Carey, S. Mineralogical Society of London, Spring 2000. Volcanic ash and the environment (keynote speech) London, England.