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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: What drives volcanic unrest in New Zealand? Insights from volcano geodesy and numerical models for enhanced eruption forecasting

   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr James Hickey  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Main supervisor: Dr James Hickey, Camborne School of Mines, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall

Project description:

Volcanic eruptions are some of the most spectacular natural phenomena on the planet, but pose a significant threat to over 10% of the world’s population. To enable eruption forecasting, carry out hazard assessments and mitigate risk, a thorough understanding of eruption precursors and volcanic unrest is essential. However, such knowledge is lacking for almost all the world’s volcanoes. This project will address this shortcoming with a particular focus on New Zealand’s volcanic activity.

New Zealand is one of the world’s most volcanically active countries, with over 12 volcanic centres and a high frequency of eruptions. In particular, it is home to the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ) which covers an area of more than 6000 square kilometres, contains numerous caldera and geothermal systems and has been actively deforming throughout the 21st century (Hamling et al., 2015). This project will take advantage of new thermomechanical (finite element) modelling techniques (Hickey et al., 2016) and combine them with ground and satellite based monitoring data in order to more accurately assess the state of the subsurface magmatic reservoirs feeding New Zealand’s volcanoes.

Numerical thermomechanical models have never before been applied to volcanoes in New Zealand despite the country having a substantial thermal signature from its rich volcanic history. This presents an excellent opportunity to investigate the role of thermal and mechanical processes on magma reservoir evolution, and how they influence spatial and temporal geophysical monitoring signals that may potentially serve as eruption precursors during periods of volcanic unrest. Such inferences can be used to parameterise the processes of magma supply, accumulation and migration, to facilitate eruption forecasting, hazard assessment and risk mitigation.

The successful student will be based on the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter under the supervision of Dr Hickey, where he or she will further develop the modelling methods and have access to excellent computational geophysical facilities. The student will additionally benefit from significant involvement and exchange periods with GNS Science in New Zealand, where fieldwork and geophysical data processing skills will be developed under the supervision of Dr Fournier. Further collaboration will see the student visiting Dr Gottsmann at the University of Bristol to enhance their professional network and broaden their volcanological knowledge.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

See please http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=2308 for more details on how to apply.

Funding Notes

At least 4 fully-funded studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter. The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Hamling, I., Hreinsdottir, S., & Fournier, N. (2015) The ups and downs of the TVZ: Geodetic observations of deformation around Taupo Volcanic Zone, New Zealand, Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 120(6), 4667-4679.

Hickey, J., Gottsmann, J., Nakamichi, H., & Iguchi, M. (2016) Thermomechanical controls on magma supply and volcanic deformation: application to Aira caldera, Scientific Reports, 6, 32691.
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