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Volcanic plumbing system dynamics and their impact on communities living near active volcanoes

Project Description

The aim of this project is to develop a coupled physical and social volcanology model to inform and impact volcanic hazard assessment and management

Physical and social volcanology are often considered in isolation. Volcano observatories are tasked with monitoring the signals of magma movement by interpreting geophysical and geodetic datasets to assess whether or not an eruption is likely. The Vesuvius Observatory is the surveillance centre for monitoring volcanoes in the Campanian region of Italy, including Mount Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei. Any volcanic activity in this region could have significant societal impact, potentially requiring the rapid evacuation of more than 1 million people from the city of Naples and surrounding area.

Within the context of the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks (e.g. United Nations, 2015), studies of historical disasters are important and can inform policies of hazard risk reduction, as aspects of society that were important then may still be relevant today. In particular, the cultural and political contexts may influence the ways in which communities respond to volcanic eruptions (Barclay et al. 2015). Understanding the manner in which communities and the State apparatus have coped with historic eruptions can provide insights into how responses have influenced vulnerability and resilience. Past eruptions of Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei are well suited for such studies, with long documentary records of eruptions and geophysical events (Sangster et al. 2018), spanning more that two millenia, with the now iconic settlements of Pompeii and Herculaneum demonstrating the potential effects of such events.

This project links the physical understanding of volcanic plumbing system dynamics with volcanic crisis management and communication. Volcanoes are fed by a volcanic plumbing system which comprises an interconnected network of magma-filled fractures (dykes and sills) that are responsible for the storage and transport of magma (e.g. Kavanagh, 2018). However, the recognition of dyke or sill propagation which may lead to eruption is reliant on measurements that are indirect.

Scaled analogue experiments offer an exceptional opportunity upon which to validate existing dyke and sill propagation models that are used to interpret the signals of magma movement in nature (e.g. Kavanagh et al. 2018a). Using state-of-the-art observation and monitoring methods at the University of Liverpool MAGMA laboratory, key physical parameters in dyke and sill propagation will be explored. The techniques will include laser imaging, photogrammetry, and 3D digital image correlation (e.g. Kavanagh et al. 2018b).
One way to build resilience to the impacts of magma movement and volcanic activity is to learn from what has happened historically. Past experiences of communities affected by eruptive activity in the Campanian region of Italy will be sourced from historical records and analysed to highlight potential areas of vulnerability; particularly in relation to infrastructure and accessibility (evacuation plans) and community awareness. Historical events can provide valuable ‘stories’ of past experiences that can help facilitate effective communication of future risks and hazards (especially in periods of volcanic unrest/uncertainty).

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.


Barclay J. et al. 2015. Social processes and volcanic risk reduction. In: Sigurdsson H et al. (eds). The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, 2nd ed (pp. 1203–1214).
Kavanagh, J.L., 2018. Mechanisms of magma transport in the upper crust—dyking. In Volcanic and Igneous Plumbing Systems (pp. 55-88). Elsevier.
Kavanagh, J.L. et al. 2018a. A review of laboratory and numerical modelling in volcanology. Solid Earth, 9(2), pp.531-571.
Kavanagh, J.L. et al. 2018b. Challenging dyke ascent models using novel laboratory experiments: implications for reinterpreting evidence of magma ascent and volcanism. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 354, pp.87-101.
Sangster, H. et al. 2018. The co-evolution of historical source materials in the geophysical, hydrological and meteorological sciences: Learning from the past and moving forward. Progress in Physical Geography, 42(1), pp. 61–82.
United Nations (2015) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 | Geneva.

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