Volatiles Laboratory

Gow Mac gas chromatograph
Dr. Tobias P. Fischer
Northrop Hall Room 219
(505) 277-0683


The Volatiles Laboratory in Earth & Planetary Sciences is a research and training-focused laboratory and analytical facility. The mission of the lab is to support world-class volatiles research and monitoring. We accomplish these goals by:

  1. Maintaining state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation capable of measuring gas compositions and fluxes .
  2. Providing educational support in the form of training programs and workshops with hands-on instruction for undergraduate and graduate students on how to collect, prepare, and analyze gases from a variety of settings, as well as aid in the interpretation of results.
  3. Encourage international and cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas and techniques at UNM regarding the application of volatiles in experimental and field settings.

Current Projects

1. Composition and fluxes of volcanic gases released from Uturunku Volcano, Bolivia. This interdisciplinary NSF-funded project focusses on understanding of the past and current deformation of the Uturunku Volcanic System in the Bolivian Andes. Researchers from the Volatiles Lab are responsible for sampling Uturunku volcanic gases, determining the flux of these gases and interpreting that data in light of the current deformation activity. Karissa Rosenberger is working as the M.Sc. student on this project.

Uturunku Volcano


2. Investigating the magmatic volatiles as recorded by melt inclusions and the effect of magmatic volatiles on the generation of volcanic lightning. Volcanic lightning occurs frequently at volcanoes such as Sakura Jima, Japan. Researchers from the volatiles lab work with scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory to understand the connection between volcanic lightning and magmatic volatiles. John Hamilton is working as the Ph.D. student on this project.

Volcanic Lightnin at Sakaurajima Volcano
Volcanic Lightning at Sakaurajima Volcano

  1. The gas compositions of Valles Caldera, New Mexico. Researchers from the volatiles lab monitor the composition of volcanic and hydrothermal gases being emitted from Valles Caldera, New Mexico using a multiGAS system, diffuse CO2 flux measurements and direct gas sampling. Brynna Siluk is the MS student working on this project.

    Sulfur Springs, Valles Caldera
    Sulfur Springs, Valles Caldera

New Projects, starting 2021

If you are interested, please contact Tobias Fischer

  1. The National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative (NRI) is funding an interdisciplinary 3-year research initiative on advancing volcanic gas measurements using Volcano Co-robots with Adaptive Natural algorithms (VolCAN). The project is housed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque with investigators from the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering forming the VolCAN research group. A major goal of this project is to improve our ability to measure gases in volcanic plumes, fumaroles and diffuse degassing areas using drones that operate in swarms. Hardware and software will be developed to generate 3D chemical concentration maps, detect volcanic gas sources and determine gas emission rates. Extensive field testing on volcanoes and hydrothermal systems is an integral part of the project. Obtained data will be used to advance our understating of volcanic processes leading to eruptions.

     Flying drone at Tavurvur volcano, Papua New Guinea to sample volcanic plumes for carbon isotopes. This was part of a 2019 international expedition organized under the umbrella of ABOVE https://deepcarbon.net/project/above#Overview
     Flying drone at Tavurvur volcano, Papua New Guinea to sample volcanic plumes for carbon isotopes. This was part of a 2019 international expedition organized under the umbrella of ABOVE https://deepcarbon.net/project/above#Overview

  2. NASA IDS on excess volatiles in volcanic eruptions

    This project focuses on ‘excess’ volatiles in volcanic systems, including their potential role in generating eruption precursors and influencing magma ascent, plume dynamics and subsequent atmospheric dispersion and impacts. A major goal of this project is to couple models of discrete aspects of volcanic eruptions (volatile solubility, conduit flow, eruption plumes and atmospheric dispersion) to advance predictive capabilities for simulation of the large (VEI 6+) explosive eruptions expected to impact climate. This will prepare NASA and the wider scientific community to better respond to the next major volcanic eruption.

    The project is a collaborative effort between several institutions with different research foci:

    Michigan Technological University (Simon Carn) – satellite remote sensing
    University of Oregon (Paul Wallace and Joe Dufek) - petrological, gas solubility and plume modeling
    Rice University (Helge Gonnermann) - conduit flow modeling
    University of New Mexico (Tobias Fischer) – volcanic gas sampling/ground-based sensing, eruption response
    American University (Valentina Aquila) – atmospheric general circulation modeling (GCM)
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (Peter Colarco, Paul Newman, Nickolay Krotkov, Can Li) – atmospheric GCM, satellite measurements, NASA eruption response

Laboratory Capabilities

We maintain a Gow Mac gas chromatograph with DID and TCD analyzers and Pfeiffer quadrupole mass spectrometer, connected to a high vacuum sample preparation line. We analyze complete gas compositions (CO2, CH4, CO, N2, Ar, He, H2, O2) in volcanic and hydrothermal samples, air samples and samples collected in vacutainer vials from CO2 accumulation chambers or biological microcosms. We also analyze Giggenbach bottles with NaOH solution for the above gases and H2O, SO2, H2S, HCl, and HF using a combination of wet chemical titrations and ion chromatography. We can take splits of these samples for stable isotope analyses at the Center for Stable Isotopes Center for Stable Isotopes or noble gas isotope analyses through external collaborations.

We also have a Delta Ray Infrared carbon isotope analyzer that we use to analyze samples collected by drone, from the accumulation chamber and from gas sample bottles.


Field Capabilities

We maintain and deploy a miniDOAS instrument for SO2 flux measurements from volcanoes. We use our miniDOAS instrument with mobileDOAS software (Chalmers University) to determine SO2 concentrations in volcanic plumes in stationary mode or mobile traverses. Recent work was done at Gareloi and Kanaga volcanoes in the Western Aleutians deployed a helicopter for plume traverses, and we are developing drone deployment, recently tested in Papau New Guinea.

CO2 accumulation chamber. We have several PP Systems CO2 accumulation chambers that we modified to allow also allow the collection of gas samples in vacutainers for the determination of CO2 content and carbon isotopes. We have used this method in the East African Rift system, on Erebus Volcano, and throughout the western U.S.

Gas sampling equipment. We have the complete equipment to collect and transport gas samples from high temperature fumaroles, bubbling springs and soils for chemical and isotopic analyses.

MiniDOASGas sampling of fumarolesCO2chamber
Sampling gas with miniDOAS.Sampling fumaroles with Giggenbach apparatus.Deploying CO2 flux meters on an aereal survey of the African Rift.