Dr James Hickey


My primary research interests are in the processes controlling the dynamics of active and restless volcanoes and the geophysical signals they produce, with an overarching aim of helping to improve eruption forecasting capabilities.

Current Projects

Reconciling eruption timescales and volcanic unrest at Aira caldera and Sajurajima volcano, Japan

Regular small eruptions belie the volcano’s fierce past, including regular Plinian eruptions, the latest of which in 1914 killed 58 people. This ambitious project aims to combine insights from geophysical and geochemical monitoring with those from igneous petrology to unravel the processes dictating eruption size and link them to precursory monitoring signals for improved eruption forecasting. 

Flank stability and deformation at Tungurahua volcano, Ecuador

Tungurahua is a steep, active stratovolcano in Ecuador, South America, that has been in a sequence of eruptive activity since 1999. This volcano has a history of catastrophic flank collapse, the latest of which destroyed the west flank 3000 years ago. Current volcanic unrest includes significant surface deformation and uplift restricted to the same west flank. This project aims to link these two phenomena using remote sensing, field work and numerical modelling, to establish any potential relationships and develop a hazard assessment. 

Surface deformation and volcanic unrest at Soufriere Hills volcano, Montserrat

Soufriere Hills volcano sprang back to life in 1995, and has been periodically active since then with cycles of quiescence and eruption. These cycles are well matched with geochemical and geophysical indicators of unrest, including surface deformation. In collaboration with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory we are investigating past and present deformation episodes to explore the evolution of the magmatic system and magma supply.

Previous Research

My previous postdoctoral research was focused on the monitoring of volcanic deformation, through the use of satellite InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar). This role combined both research and operational/national capability responsibilities to provide timely information to the British Government and Latin American volcano observatories. I was tasked with processing and analysing InSAR data for volcanic unrest and eruption across the globe, and combining satellite and ground-based observations to develop new monitoring strategies. I also took a lead role in developing a volcano deformation database.

The research feeding my PhD was specifically focused on examining and modelling the mechanical processes that cause and contribute to surface deformation during volcanic unrest periods. Ultimately the goal was to improve our understanding of precursory eruptive signals, through better knowledge of the subsurface processes that cause them, to enhance forecasting and mitigation efforts.