Book on Icelandic volcano earns geosciences fellowship for Alexandra Witze

January 31, 2012

Alexandra Witze

Alexandra Witze, contributing editor at Science News and a 1993 alumna of the Science Communication Program, has received a reporting fellowship from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) to write a book about the cataclysmic 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki.

The inaugural Geosciences Communications Fellowship, valued at €2,500, will help cover Witze's expenses for a book she is writing with her husband, freelance science journalist Jeff Kanipe. The Laki eruption, which lasted eight months along a series of fissures in Earth's crust, devastated Iceland and much of northern Europe with thick clouds of hydrofluoric acid and sulfur dioxide.

Witze calls the Laki eruption "one of history's great untold natural disasters." A similar eruption today could kill tens of thousands of people and shut down air traffic and commerce over a widespread region.

EGU received 34 proposals from journalists for its inaugural fellowship competition. A second award went to freelance writer Jane Qiu, who will report on climate change and the "Third Pole," an ice-rich region of the Tibetan plateau. Both Witze and Qiu are invited to attend EGU's General Assembly in Vienna, April 22-27.

Witze, who studied geology at MIT, writes about physical sciences for Science News and other publications. Previously, she was chief of correspondents for the U.S. bureau of Nature in Washington, D.C.; science reporter at the Dallas Morning News; and associate editor at Earth. She has received several national awards for her work, including the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers and the Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism—Features from the American Geophysical Union. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.