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Volcanic seismicity and eruption forecasting at the basaltic caldera volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, January 09, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project will undertake the first systematic study of seismicity of the basaltic volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands, providing new insights into their behaviour, and methods for forecasting future eruptions

Project background
The volcanic islands of the Galapagos play an iconic role in the history of natural science, and their unique characteristics raise many questions about the nature of basaltic volcanism. The prominent large, deep calderas, and prevalence of circumferential and radial eruption fissures distinguish the western Galapagos volcanoes from other ocean island basaltic systems, and suggest a complex interplay between the magmatic ‘plumbing system’ and edifice shape and structure. These volcanoes pose a potential hazard to local communities and tourists, and an improved understanding of the processes that underpin their behaviour will allow us to better forecast future activity.

Seismology is one of the primary tools we have for investigating subsurface processes at volcanoes. Although we know that the Galapagos Island volcanoes exhibit interesting and extensive seismicity, particularly before and during eruptions, their remote location means that no eruption in the Galapagos had been recorded by a local seismic monitoring network until the 2018 eruption of Sierra Negra. However, an instrumental record of seismicity dating back to the 1970s offers the possibility to develop new methodologies to probe seismic activity at these volcanoes.

Research questions
How has seismic activity at the volcanoes of the Galapagos Islands evolved through time?
What determines the nature of seismicity at different volcanic systems, and from one eruption to the next?
What does seismicity tell us about the nature of the volcanic plumbing systems and structures?
How can we build useful eruption forecasting methods for local monitoring agencies?

Work on the project will begin by compiling seismic datasets for the Galapagos from global sources, temporary campaign deployments, and local institutional monitoring efforts. These range from our unique dataset recording the 2018 eruption at Sierra Negra volcano on Isabela Island, to paper records from the 1970s. The data will be used to develop seismic catalogues for the 7 active volcanoes of the western Galapagos, using traditional arrival picking methods, and testing alternative approaches such as template matching. The quality of seismic records from archive data will be evaluated against modern monitoring data.

The seismic records from different volcanoes will be compared to their eruptive records and deformation data as documented by InSAR. The details of individual pre-, co-, and post-eruptive records will be characterised to develop models for the processes underpinning activity at different volcanoes.

In collaboration with partners at the local monitoring agency, the IGEPN, methods will be developed to quantifying the unrest level at Galapagos Island volcanoes, and to provide probabilistic forecasts of future activity. These will be benchmarked against archive data and set up to run in ‘real-time’ to support operational decision-making.

Year 1 – Initial catalogue creation, record of seismic and eruptive activity

Year 2 – Further methodology development. Comparison between volcanic systems and with modern activity

Year 3 – Development of ‘real-time’ eruption forecasting models for volcanoes of the Galapagos.

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The student will be trained in fundamental aspects of volcanology and seismology. Within a dynamic and multi-disciplinary research group, they will learn to use high-level coding languages, such as Python, for statistical and time series data analysis. This training will include advanced computing and ‘big data’ techniques, both of which are highly transferrable skill sets. Research visits to the Galapagos and partners in Ecuador will provide training in volcano monitoring techniques, data analysis, and the complex reality of volcanic hazard management. There will be the potential for the student to undertake an internship at a relevant volcano observatory.

This project would be suitable for an enthusiastic student with a first degree in Geology, Physical Geography, Earth Sciences, or other physical science subject. A willingness to apply quantitative methods is important, and some prior experience in coding (Python, Matlab, R, or a similar language) would be helpful, though not essential.

Funding Notes

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