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SCENARIO - Generating and evaluating atmospheric dispersion volcanic ash forecast ensembles

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Volcanic ash poses a significant hazard to aircraft. When ash is ingested into engines it can cause engine failure, putting the lives of aircrew and passengers at risk. Encounters between aircraft and volcanic ash clouds can also lead to permanent engine damage, resulting in expensive replacement of engine components and time-consuming maintenance procedures. Flights are therefore significantly restricted if there is volcanic ash present in airspace, which disrupts air traffic and causes large financial loses to the aviation industry and beyond. For example, the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption grounded over 95,000 flights, costing the airline industry over £1 billion pounds.

To ensure safe and optimised flight operations during volcanic eruptions, accurate forecasts of ash location and concentration are needed. This requires accurate knowledge of the volcanoes eruption characteristics and perfect representation of the atmospheric processes controlling the transport of volcanic ash in the atmosphere. Current forecasts (see figure) do not explicitly take into account the inherent uncertainty in our knowledge of these factors. Thus, airline flight operators currently have incomplete information regarding the risk of flying when there is volcanic ash present in airspace. To address this problem, it is necessary to develop the next generation of volcanic ash forecasts. In this project we will address the issue of missing uncertainty representation by producing probabilistic volcanic ash forecasts using ensemble forecasting techniques. The aim of this project is to explore methods for generating and evaluating the reliability and skill of volcanic ash ensemble forecasts with a view to developing an operational dispersion ensemble prediction system. We will achieve this by bringing together the latest research into volcanic ash forecasting, probabilistic prediction and uncertainty communication.

In the project we will perform ensemble volcanic ash simulations for a number of historic eruptions. Using the ensemble simulations and satellite data we will calculate the skill o f each ensemble member forecast. The PhD student will work with members of the Atmospheric Dispersion and Air Quality group at the Met Office to investigate the most reliable and skilful dispersion ensemble prediction system and also to develop the capability to communicate the reliability and skill to end users.

Training opportunities:
The student will visit the Met Office at least twice during the project to discuss the design and implementation of
experiments using the Met Office Dispersion Model.

Student profile:
Applicants should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, Masters Degree with Merit, or equivalent in (ideally)
mathematics or physics or a closely related physical or environmental science. Students should have a strong interest in high impact
atmospheric dispersion events and their predictability.

To apply, please follow the instructions at

Funding Notes

This project is potentially funded by the Scenario NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, subject to a competition to identify the strongest applicants.

This project has CASE funding from The Met Office.

Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK students and EU students who have lived in the UK for the past three years. The DTP can only fund a very limited number of international students, so only applications from international students with an outstanding academic background placing them in the top 10% of their cohort will be considered.


Prata, A.T., Dacre, H.F., Irvine, E.A., Mathieu, E., Shine, K.P. and Clarkson, R.J., 2019. Calculating and
communicating ensemble based volcanic ash dosage and concentration risk for aviation. Meteorological
Applications 26 (2), pp.253 266.

Harvey, N.J., Huntley, N., Dacre, H.F., Goldstein, M., Thomson, D. and Webster, H., 2018. Multi level emulation
of a volcanic ash transport and dispersion model to quantify sensitivity to uncertain parameters. Natural hazards
and earth system sciences. 18 (1), pp.41 63.

How good is research at University of Reading in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 75.68

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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