Associate professor

Area of Research: Volcanology

Phone: +32 2 650 22 37

Email: karen.fontijn@ulb.be


Research interests

I am a physical volcanologist interested in tephrostratigraphic studies of poorly-known volcanoes, in order to constrain past eruptive behaviour which allows us to assess how the system changes over time and which can contribute to volcanic hazard assessment. This type of work is typically strongly based on detailed field studies and is complemented with geochronological, petrological, geochemical, textural and sedimentological data. Using these combined datasets, we can obtain constraints on frequency-magnitude relationships, eruptive and pre-eruptive parameters, and understand the factors that control the behaviour of volcanoes and individual eruptions, both at a local and regional scale. By integrating terrestrial with lacustrine sediment records, we can furthermore reconstruct high-resolution age models of volcanic activity at a regional scale, which can be used to fine-tune age models of various palaeoenvironmental archives, and also to investigate interactions of volcanic activity and the environment. 

I work on volcanoes in different tectonic settings, from alkaline rift volcanoes in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, to oceanic and continental arc volcanoes in the Philippines, Indonesia and Chile. A better understanding of the volcanic geology and most recent (ca. last 10,000 years) eruptive histories as well as eruptive styles at these volcanoes is a fundamental contribution to volcanic hazard assessment and risk mitigation. Apart from studying volcanoes from a hazards perspective, I am also interested in understanding the natural resources related to volcanism. Particularly in East Africa many rift volcanoes offer vast geothermal resources that are equally important in the context of sustainable development. 

If you are interested in working with me, please get in touch.

Teaching activities

  • GEOL-F301: Mineralogy
  • GEOL-F306 / CHIM-F207: Crystallography
  • GEOL-F319: Introduction to Ore Mineralogy
  • GEOL-F4002: Volcanology
  • GEOL-F408: Volcanic Terrains – Field trip

Synoptic CV

2020 – Present Associate professor, Université libre de Bruxelles (BE)

2018 – 2020 Assistant professor, Université libre de Bruxelles (BE)

2012 – 2018 Post-doctoral research associate, University of Oxford (UK)

2011 Research fellow, Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University (SG)

2011 PhD in Sciences: Geology, Ghent University (BE)

2006 Master of Science: Geology, Ghent University (BE)

Publications (last five years)

For a full and up-to-date publication list, see Google Scholar


– Tierz P, Clarke B, Calder ES, Dessalegn F, Lewi E, Yirgu G, Fontijn K, Crummy JM, Bekele Y, Loughlin S (2020). Event trees and epistemic uncertainty in long‐term volcanic hazard assessment of rift volcanoes: the example of Aluto (Central Ethiopia). Geochemistry, geophysics, geosystems, 21, e2020GC009219. doi:10.1029/2020GC009219.

– Russell J, Barker PA, Cohen AS, Ivory SJ, Kimirei IA, Lane CS, Leng MJ, Maganza N, McGlue MM, Msaky ES, Noren AJ, Boush LP, Salzburger W, Scholz CA, Tiedemann R, Nuru S, and the Lake Tanganyika Scientific Drilling Project Consortium (2020). ICDP workshop on the Lake Tanganyika Scientific Drilling Project: A late Miocene-present record of climate, rifting, and ecosystem evolution from the world’s oldest tropical lake. Scientific drilling, 27, 53-60. doi:10.5194/sd-27-53-2020.

РSmith RE, Smith VCS, Fontijn K, Gebhardt AC, Wasteg̴rd S, Zolitschka B, Ohlendorf C, Stern C, Mayr C (2019). Refining the Late Quaternary tephrochronology for southern South America using the Laguna Potrok Aike sedimentary record. Quaternary Science Reviews 218: 137 Р156.

– Clarke B, Calder ES, Dessalegn F, Fontijn K, Cortes JA, Naylor M, Butler IB, Hutchison W, Yirgu G (2019). Fluidal pyroclasts from explosive peralkaline rhyolite eruptions: new insights on eruption dynamics. Nature Communications 10: 2010; doi 10.1038/s41467-019-09947-8.

– Iddon F, Jackson C, Hutchison W, Fontijn K, Pyle DM, Mather TA, Yirgu G, Edmonds M (2019). Mixing and crystal scavenging in the Main Ethiopian Rift revealed by trace element systematics in feldspars and glasses. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems 20; doi 10.1029/2018GC007836.

– Tadesse AZ, Ayalew D, Pik R, Yirgu G, Fontijn K (2019). Magmatic evolution of the Boku volcanic complex, Main Ethiopian Rift. Journal of African Earth Sciences 149: 109 – 130; doi 10.1016/j.jafrearsci.2018.08.003.

– McNamara K, Cashman KV, Rust AC, Fontijn K, Chalié F, Tomlinson EL, Yirgu G (2018). Using lake sediment cores to improve records of volcanism at Aluto volcano in the Main Ethiopian Rift. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems; doi 10.1029/2018GC007686.

– Fontijn K, McNamara K, Zafu Tadesse A, Pyle DM, Dessalegn F, Hutchison W, Mather TA, Yirgu G (2018). Contrasting styles of post-caldera volcanism along the Main Ethiopian Rift: Implications for contemporary volcanic hazards. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 356: 90-113.

– Moernaut J, Van Daele M, Fontijn K, Heirman K, Kempf P, Pino M, Valdebenito G, Urrutia R, Strasser M, De Batist M (2018). Larger earthquakes occur more periodically: New insights in the megathrust earthquake cycle from lacustrine turbidite records in south-central Chile. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 481: 9-19.

– del Marmol,Fontijn K, Atanga M, Njome S, Mafany G, Tenning A, Wantim MN, Fonge B, Che VB, Festus A, Ernst GGJ, Suh E, Jacobs P, Kervyn M (2018). Investigating the management of geological hazards and risks in the Mt Cameroon area using Focus Group Discussions. In: Bird D, Jolly G, Haynes K, McGuire B, Fearnley C (eds) Volcanic Crisis Communication: Observing the Volcano World. Springer IAVCEI series Advances in Volcanology; p 373-394.

– Rawson H, Keller T, Fontijn K, Pyle DM, Mather TA, Smith VC, Naranjo J-A (2016). Compositional variability in mafic arc magmas over short spatial and temporal scales: evidence for the signature of mantle reactive melt channels. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 456: 66-77.

– Poppe S, Smets B, Fontijn K, Rukeza MB, Migabo AMF, Milungu AK, Namogo DB, Kervyn F, Kervyn M (2016). Holocene phreatomagmatic eruptions alongside the densely populated northern shoreline of Lake Kivu, East-African Rift: timing and hazard implications. Bulletin of Volcanology 78: 82.

– Van Eaton AR, Amigo Á, Bertin D, Mastin LG, Giacosa RE, González J, Valderrama O,F ontijn K, Behnke SA (2016). Volcanic lightning and plume behavior reveal evolving hazards during the April 2015 eruption of Calbuco volcano, Chile. Geophysical Research Letters 43: 3563-3571.

– Fontijn K, Rawson H, Van Daele M, Moernaut J, Abarzúa AM, Heirman K, Bertrand S, Pyle DM, Mather TA, De Batist M, Naranjo JA, Moreno H (2016). Synchronisation of sedimentary records using tephra: A postglacial tephrochronological model for the Chilean Lake District. Quaternary Science Reviews 137: 234-254.

– Rawson H, Pyle DM, Mather TA, Smith VC, Fontijn K, Lachowycz SM, Naranjo JA (2016). The magmatic and eruptive response of arc volcanoes to deglaciation: Insights from southern Chile. Geology 44: 251-254.