Ryan Portner

Subaqueous Volcanic Eruptions

Ryan Portner, SJSU

Department of Geology, College of Science 
Sponsor: National Science Foundation

Geologist Ryan Portner studies a kind of volcanic activity that is seldom seen: volcanoes that erupt deep below the surface of the ocean. “Submarine volcanism remains underexplored and underexamined,” he says, despite the fact that “three quarters of Earth lies beneath water, and a substantial majority of Earth’s volcanic eruptions take place in this subaqueous realm.” 

With the help of new submarine and robotic technologies, Portner aims to change our understanding of these underwater phenomena. 

“Our ability to address these and other fundamental questions is continually expanding with technological advancements in marine geology and direct observations of active deep-sea eruptions,” he says. 

Portner uses robotic submarines to dive down to the ocean floor. These robots are equipped with “manipulators”—robotic arms and hands—to collect sediment and rock samples for study. 

Armed with these samples, Portner explores fundamental questions about volcanism on Earth from the ascent of molten rock (magma) below the surface to its eruption onto the sea floor. He views his research as a piece of a larger scientific puzzle: humanity’s understanding of the Earth. 

“Ultimately,” he says, “this work supports scientific research by my students and colleagues who aim to understand the interactions between the solid-earth, hydrosphere and biosphere and how these interactions evolve through time.” 

Student Research

SJSU Student Beth Johnson"I have always loved my research experiences here at SJSU, both as an undergrad and as a graduate student. All my professors have been mentors in one way or another, and they have encouraged me at every turn. You cannot help but share in their joy regarding research."

Beth Johnson
’15 Physics, ’18 MS Geology


SJSU Student Jacon Danielsen"The geology department encourages us to develop a broad knowledge of our field that includes both research and career-related skills. Given what I’ve learned at SJSU, I’m hoping to go into private industry, potentially working in environmental consulting and remediation."

Jacob Danielsen
’17 Geology, ’19 MS Geology

SJSU Research Foundation Annual Report 2018