World Renowned Volcanologist Returns to Visit Her Family and Home along the Greenbrier/Pocahontas County Line
Who would think that one of the leading scientists studying volcanos all over the world once lived along the Pocahontas/Greenbrier County line just below Hillsboro? Dr. Patricia A. Mothes, who prefers to be known as simply Patty Mothes, explains how her early interests in the rocks and caves of the Greenbrier Valley helped prepare her for a life dedicated to studying volcanos.
“While we don’t have any volcanos here in Greenbrier Valley, and we don’t even have any nearby, I think that all my training here in caves and sedimentary rocks was a good beginning for studying the rocks that come out of volcanos and the ambience of the environments that volcanos are in” Patty says.
Patty has been living and working in Quito, Ecuador for over 20 years where she has worked for one of the Geophysical Institute of one of the main Engineering Universities in Ecuador.
“I am presently the head of Volcanology at the Escuela Politecnica Nacional” Patty says. “I have approximately 15 people that work under me. I am also a member of the International Organization of Volcanology and on the Executive Committee of that group.”
Patty describes some what she does for the University.
“Studying active volcanos, and we monitor these volcanos with seismic as well as deformation monitoring equipment studying the gases coming out of the volcano” Patty says. “Using live-time video cameras to understand if there is an increase in steam or is there a landslide going off the side of the volcano. And using satellite imagery as well as GPS to understand the changing form of the volcano.”
During impending volcanic eruptions, Patty also serves in a scientific advisory role which anyone who has ever watched one of Hollywood’s volcano disaster movies will recognize.
“It’s not only been a past time, it’s been a career, it’s been my professional life” says Patty. “It’s brought me tremendous responsibilities and decision making during times of eruptive activity where thousands of people have to be evacuated. I am not, of course on the evacuation side, but I am on the side to be able to tell authorities that their volcano is producing hot products that people must – people and animals – must get out of the way of.”
In quieter times, Patty and her husband Peter, who is also a volcanologist go out searching for undiscovered volcanos.
“My husband and I recently, in the last 5 to 8 years have found many new volcanos” Patty explains. “It’s not too different then we go out and find cave passages here in the cave system. Obviously you think ‘gee whiz, anybody can find a volcano on the surface’ but in Ecuador where we live and work there are vast areas up in what we call the Cordilleras up in the highlands where the volcanic sources may not be that obvious.”
Patty goes on about new volcano discoveries.
“In the last year, we found two new volcanos” Patty says. “How new is new? Well in this case it might only be 15,000 years old. So we’re sending off the rocks to be dated and were sending off some carbon material to be dated with the Carbon 14 method.”
Patty is currently monitoring one of the more active volcanos in Ecuador.
“One of the most active volcanos called Tungurahua, its last important eruption was on the first of February, 2014” Patty says. “And then last August and September it gave all the geophysical signatures that it would erupt. But it didn’t happen. And then most recently, from February until about a month ago the volcano again showed that it would erupt, but it didn’t. It’s behaving differently then it had from 2010 to 2014.”
Patty explains what the behavior of that volcano points out.
“Volcanos are very variable in their behavior at times” Patty says. “And our job is also to interpret all the geophysical signals and then to decide what are the scenarios that these patterns may lead to.”
Despite her attachment to her work and Ecuador she always holds the Greenbrier Valley and its beautiful mountains, valleys, streams, creeks and people dear. She often returns here to visit her family, the Mothes family, and feels that one day she will perhaps return to stay.