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Magma Ascent Down Under: Magma Flow in Basaltic Fissure Systems

Project Description

The goal of this study is to improve volcanic hazard assessment models by developing new methodologies in scaled laboratory experiments to inform the interpretation of field, geophysical and geodetic observations of basaltic fissure eruptions.

The destructive power of volcanoes is both fascinating and devastating, shown most recently by new activity at Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, which captured the world’s attention. The dramatic draining of two lava lakes, explosions at the summit of the volcano, and the production of more than 20 new volcanic fissures (all in just a few days) produced lava flows that destroyed more than 700 properties, infrastructure, and displaced more than 1700 people (USGS, 2018). Kilauea volcano had been erupting continuously since 1983, and yet this new activity caught scientists and residents by surprise, raising new questions on magma storage and transport processes within volcanic plumbing systems.

Volcanoes are fed by an interconnected network of magma-filled fractures (dykes and sills) that store magma at depth and transport it to the surface (see Kavanagh 2018 for a review). A key motivation for all volcanological research is to aid hazard assessment, and essential insight can be found by studying the dynamics of the magma-filled fractures in the sub-surface, to help predict where and when the next volcanic eruption will be. We currently have only a partial understanding of the dynamics of dyke intrusion as the methods we can use to study them are indirect and incomplete.

You will combine analogue experiments and field observations to study the dynamics of magma-filled fractures in the crust, focusing specifically on basaltic fissure systems in Australia and the USA. Taking advantage of new state-of-the-art methodologies and facilities in analogue experiments and microstructural analysis at the University of Liverpool, your new experiments will test and refine widely used conceptual models of dyke emplacement.

Scaled analogue experiments are an important tool to aid the interpretation of field observations and reconstruct intrusion and eruption dynamics (see Kavanagh et al. 2018a for a review). Working in the Liverpool MAGMA Laboratory, you will apply novel 3-dimensional-3-Component tomographic particle image velocimetry (3D3C TomoPIV) to gelatine analogue experiments and map the flow dynamics of experimental dykes that feed fissure eruptions. Our recent innovations in the use of 2D PIV have challenged conceptual dyke emplacement models (Kavanagh et al. 2018b), and the proposed experiments will explore new innovations in 3D imaging to link more closely to natural datasets from volcano observatories.

You will complete a field study of an ancient fissure eruption in Australia, where erosion has provided exceptional access to the inner structures of the volcano. You will collect your own rock samples, to supplement an existing suite, and use textural characteristics, field relations (e.g. Jones at el. 2018) and measurements of the petrographic, mineralogical and microstructural character of them using cutting-edge facilities in scanning electron microscopy (SEM), electron back-scattered diffraction (EBSD) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) at the Liverpool EBSD-SEM Laboratory. EBSD is a quantitative SEM technique used to measure the absolute crystallographic orientations of grains in a rock (Prior et al. 2009).

To apply for this opportunity, please visit: and click the ’Apply online’ button.

Funding Notes

Full funding (fees, stipend, research support budget) is provided by the University of Liverpool for 3.5 years for UK or EU citizens. Formal training is offered through partnership between the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester. Our training programme will provide all PhD students with an opportunity to collaborate with an academic or non-academic partner and participate in placements.


Jones, T.J., Houghton, B.F., Llewellin, E.W., Parcheta, C.E. and Höltgen, L., 2018. Spatter matters–distinguishing primary (eruptive) and secondary (non-eruptive) spatter deposits. Scientific reports, 8(1), p.9179.
Kavanagh, J. L., 2018. Mechanisms of Magma Transport in the Upper Crust — Dyking. Volcanic and Igneous Plumbing Systems, edited by S. Burchardt, pp. 55–89.
Kavanagh, J. L. et al. 2018a. Solid Earth 9, 531-571.
Kavanagh, J. L. et al. 2018b. JVGR 354, 87-101.
USGS, 2018. Preliminary Analysis of the ongoing Lower East Rift Zone (LERZ) eruption of Kīlauea Volcano: Fissure 8 Prognosis and Ongoing Hazards. Cooperation report to Hawaii county civil defense.
Prior, D.J. et al. 2009. EBSD in the earth sciences: applications, common practice, and challenges. Electron backscatter diffraction in Materials Science.

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