Professor Colin Wilson will be delving into the life and times of supervolcanoes for the next two years.
The Victoria Professor from the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences was awarded one of four prestigious James Cook Research Fellowships providing funding of $110,000 for each of the next two years.
Professor Wilson studies the volcanoes that produce the biggest eruptions: supervolcanoes.
"The most recent eruption from a supervolcano was in New Zealand-at Taupo, about 25,400 years ago. It ejected 530 cubic kilometres of molten rock and caused several hundred square kilometres of land to collapse, forming the hole in which Lake Taupo now sits."
In comparison, the biggest volcanic eruption in recorded history-the 1815 eruption at Tambora in Indonesia-ejected only 50 cubic kilometres of molten rock, yet the explosion was heard 2,000 kilometres away, and the eruption and its effects killed at least 71,000 people.
"Modern humanity has never experienced anything on the scale of a supervolcano," says Professor Wilson, who is one of the world's leading volcanologists.
"I've been close enough to erupting volcanoes to take photos of the eruption but with supervolcanoes we're talking about eruptions where if you can see it, you're going to be killed by it. Everything that we can learn about such eruptions has to be by studying the products of past eruptions."
The James Cook Research Fellowships are administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of government and are awarded to researchers who have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research.