More Than Meets the Eye: Volcanic Hazard Map Design and Visual Communication

  • Mary Anne Thompson
  • Jan M. Lindsay
  • Graham S. Leonard
Part of the Advances in Volcanology book series (VOLCAN)


Volcanic hazard maps depict areas that may be affected by dangerous volcanic processes, such as pyroclastic density currents, lava flows, lahars, and tephra fall. These visualisations of volcanic hazard information are used to communicate with a wide variety of audiences both during times of dormancy and volcanic crisis. Although most volcanic hazard maps show similar types of content, such as hazard footprints or zones, they vary greatly in communication style, appearance, and visual design. For example, maps for different volcanoes will use different combinations of graphics, symbols, colours, base maps, legends, and text. While this variety is a natural reflection of the diverse social, cultural, political, and volcanic settings in which the maps are created, crises and past work suggest that such visual design choices can potentially play an important role in volcanic crisis communication by influencing how people understand the hazard map and use it to make decisions. Map reading is a complex process, in which people construct meaning by interpreting the various visual representations within the context of their information needs, goals, knowledge, and experience. Visual design of the map and the characteristics of the hazard map audience can therefore influence how hazard maps are understood and applied. Here, we review case studies of volcanic crises and interdisciplinary research that addresses the relationship between hazard maps, visual design, and communication. Overall, this growing body of work suggests that volcanic hazard maps can be very useful visual tools for crisis communication if they are designed in a way that provides clear and useful information for the audience. Further, while it is important that each map is designed for its unique situation and setting, engaging with hazard map audiences to better understand their information needs and considering lessons learnt from interdisciplinary work on visual communication can help inform and guide knowledge exchange using maps.



The authors would like to acknowledge the many generations of volcanic hazard maps which have contributed valuable insight and knowledge regarding both the advantages and challenges of visually communicating volcanic hazard. The authors would also like to thank M Monsalve, H Murcia, and C Driedger for reviewing parts of this manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive and valuable comments on an earlier version of this chapter. MAT and JML gratefully acknowledge support from the New Zealand Earthquake Commission.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.GNS ScienceLower HuttNew Zealand

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