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The role of lithospheric thickness variations in intraplate volcanism

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  • Full or part time
    Prof N Rawlinson
    Dr M Hole
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

A number of recent studies have demonstrated that variations in lithospheric thickness can play a crucial role in the manifestation of intraplate volcanism at the surface of the Earth. For instance, rapid changes in relief at the base of the lithosphere can generate thermal instabilities which leads to a phenomenon known as edge driven convection (EDC); decompression melting caused by the upward movement of material in the EDC cell can result in volcanism at the surface. Similarly, upwelling plumes, which bring hot material up to the base of the lithosphere from the deep mantle via relatively narrow conduits, can produce intra-plate volcanism. However, a recent paper (Davies et al., 2015) has shown that the thickness of the lithosphere above the plume can play a first-order role in determining whether melting takes place, and if it does, the composition of the melt. Very thick lithosphere can prevent decompression melting from occurring, while lithosphere of intermediate thickness will reduce the melt fraction, and hence the composition of the eruptive material. This finding has significant implications for our understanding of plume-related volcanism and intra-plate volcanism in general.

In order to better understand the role that the lithosphere plays in the occurrence of intraplate volcanism, it is essential to produce more accurate maps of lithospheric thickness than are currently available. One of the challenges in doing this is that the base of the lithosphere does not have a strong influence on the passage of seismic waves, and as a result, proxies (such as velocity gradient) are often used to approximate its location. In this project, innovative imaging methods coupled with large volumes of data will be used to help delineate lithosphere thickness, and examine its role in the occurrence of recent intraplate volcanism.

Essential Background: Equivalent of 2.1 Honours Degree in applied mathematics, physics, geophysics or computational science

Knowledge of:
• Basic understanding of Physics of the Earth and Earth Structure.
• Background in quantitative physical sciences.
The following are desirable:
• Unix/Linux, shell scripting, programming.
• Knowledge of numerical methods in applied mathematics.
• Understanding of geological concepts.

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting There is NO funding attached to this project. You can find details of living costs and the like by visiting


Davies, R., Rawlinson, N., Iaffaldano, G. & Campbell, I. (2015). 'Lithospheric controls on magma composition along Earth’s longest continental hotspot track'. Nature, vol 525, pp. 511-514.

Rawlinson, N., Salmon, M. & Kennett, BLN. (2014). 'Transportable seismic array tomography in southeast Australia: illuminating the transition from Proterozoic to Phanerozoic lithosphere'. Lithos, vol 189, pp. 65-76.

Davies, DR. & Rawlinson, N. (2014). 'On the origin of recent intraplate volcanism in Australia'. Geology, vol 42, no. 12, pp. 1031-1034.

Hole, MJ. (2015). 'The generation of continental flood basalts by decompression melting of internally heated mantle'. Geology, vol 43, no. 4, G36442, pp. 311-314.

Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for PhD in Geology, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. Please ensure that you quote the project title and supervisor on the application form.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr N Rawlinson ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.40

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