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Improvements with a purpose: the role of accurate earthquake locations in the mapping of a volcanic plumbing system (JOHNSON_UENV17EE)

Project description


Volcanoes create a great variety of seismic signals. Accurate locations of seismic events at volcanoes can be used to infer not only the geometry of the plumbing system, but also elements of the dynamic processes. At Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat, there are conflicting models of the volcanic plumbing system, and the catalogue of earthquakes is one of the pieces of evidence that these models are based on. In many cases, seismological observations have been tied to the textural and petrological features of the rocks erupted at the surface.

The project

This project aims to identify and develop the best method of accurate earthquake location for Soufriere Hills Volcano in Montserrat, and to use the accurate hypocentres to investigate the magmatic system. The methods will explore a range of possible parameters including sensitivities to network coverage and consideration of earthquake types and frequencies.

The student will visit Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) to work with Dr. Smith on seismic acquisition and processing. The student will then examine the new accurate patterns of seismicity in conjunction with existing observations of the erupted products, enabling the student to elucidate aspects of the volcanic plumbing system and ask the question how valuable is the state of the art in seismology in reconstructing past sub-surface and forecasting future activity in a system of this type.

Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat


The project will be conducted primarily in the University of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences, where the background and existing knowledge to support this project are excellent. Training will be given where necessary in seismic and other geophysical methods, general computing skills and specific programmes. The other institution involved in this project is MVO (part of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies), where Dr. Smith is the scientist in volcano seismology. Training will be given there in seismic acquisition and processing.

Person specification

Applicants must hold, or expect to receive, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant engineering, mathematical, or physical sciences discipline. Expertise in geophysics or volcanology and strong computing and mathematical skills are desirable.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17 the stipend was £14,296.

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(i) Elsworth, D., G. Mattioli, J. Taron, B. Voight, and R. Herd (2008), Implications of magma transfer between multiple reservoirs on eruption cycling, Science, 322, 246–248.

(ii) Christopher, T.E., Blundy, J., Cashman, K., Cole, P., Edmonds, M., Smith, P.J., Sparks, R.S.J. and Stinton, A. (2015), Crustal-scale degassing due to magma system destabilization and magma-gas decoupling at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Geochem. Geophys. Geosyst. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015GC005791

(iii) Neuberg, J. W., Tuffen, H., Collier, L., Green, D., Powell, T., & Dingwell, D. (2006). The trigger mechanism of low-frequency earthquakes on Montserrat. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research153(1), 37-50.

(iv) Plail, M., Edmonds, M., Humphreys, M. C., Barclay, J., & Herd, R. A. (2014). Geochemical evidence for relict degassing pathways preserved in andesite. Earth and Planetary Science Letters386, 21-33.

(v) Johnson, J. H., S. Prejean, M. K. Savage, and J. Townend (2010), Anisotropy, repeating earthquakes, and seismicity associated with the 2008 eruption of Okmok volcano, Alaska, J. Geophys. Res., 115, B00B04, doi:10.1029/2009JB006991

  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree relevant engineering, mathematical, or physical sciences discipline
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree