Volcanic eruptions can destroy infrastructure, displace communities, disrupt air travel, damage businesses and, unfortunately too often, take people’s lives, while also having a considerable effect on climate. With more than 30 million people living within 10 km of dormant or active volcanoes, forecasting volcanic eruptions, in a timely manner, is not just an academic pursuit, but has real-world life and death implications. Fortunately, most eruptions are preceded by some form of unrest that can be detected using remote sensing and used to provide an early warning. For example, eruptions are often preceded by increased thermal activity, with volcanoes sometimes showing signs of large-scale unrest for years prior to an eruption (Girona et al., 2021). Satellite borne infrared sensors are generally able to detect these anomalous increases in temperature. However, the presence of snow and ice, and especially glaciers, can significantly alter, or mask, evidence of any anomalous precursor thermal activity normally observed in this manner. However, glaciers may not always be a problem and could potentially be used to monitor volcanoes and provide some warning of unrest, because of alterations to their dimensions and/or dynamics. Our preliminary study from South America indicates that the relationship between the glacier equilibrium line altitude (ELA) and climate is often offset when glaciers are located on volcanoes. Other studies conducted by our group also indicate that glacier velocity is affected by volcanism and the magnitude of the effect is likely to be a function of time since the last eruption, the nature of that eruption and/or recent volcanic activity leading to, for example, increased geothermal heat flux. This project will investigate glacier-volcano interactions at both local and global scales in order to understand glacier response to volcanism (Barr et al., 2018) and develop tools for monitoring glaciers located on volcanoes that could be used to warn of future volcanic unrest.
In this exciting, interdisciplinary project we will look at different glacier-clad volcanic areas worldwide (Edwards et al., 2020) and analyse, at a regional scale, the difference in ELA between volcanic (glaciers located on volcanoes) and non-volcanic (glaciers proximal to but not located on a volcano) glaciers. Using a similar approach, we will also look at the differences/changes in glacier velocity and flow dynamics between volcanic and proximal non-volcanic glaciers. Finally, we will analyse the recent history of volcanic activity in these areas and, most importantly, the temperature of the volcanoes. These tasks will be performed using GIS and remote sensing techniques applied to a time series of satellite images and digital terrain models and integrated with available direct observations (glacier monitoring schemes, meteorological stations; observation of volcanic activities, satellite-borne measurements of volcanic temperature anomalies etc.).
The project seeks a highly motivated, curious and passionate student interested in doing a truly interdisciplinary project. The student will be supervised by a team of glaciologists, climatologists and volcanologists, led by Matteo Spagnolo. Ideal candidates should have a strong background in glaciology and/or volcanology, and ideally experience with remote sensing and/or GIS. Training will be offered to improve skills where necessary, and we anticipate that the candidate is willing to spend time at the various institutions involved. This will also include time at the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the CASE partner on this project. Funding will be available to cover these trips.
Essential & desirable candidate skills
Essential: Background in glaciology and/or volcanology, skills in GIS
Desirable: Understanding of climatology, experience with satellite data analyses, scripting (e.g., Python, Matlab) skills
|Profile: Matteo Spagnolo|
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences
|Profile: Donal Mullan|
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment
|Profile: Brice Rea|
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences
Dr Iestyn Barr – Manchester Metropolitan University, https://www.mmu.ac.uk/staff/profile/dr-iestyn-barr
Prof. Társilo Girona (CASE Partner supervisor) – Alaska Volcano Observatory
Barr, I.D.; Lynch, C.M.; Mullan, D.; De Siena, L.; Spagnolo, M. Volcanic Impacts on Modern Glaciers: A Global Synthesis. Earth-Sci. Rev. 2018, 182, 186–203, doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2018.04.008.
Edwards, B.; Kochtitzky, W.; Battersby, S. Global Mapping of Future Glaciovolcanism. Glob. Planet. Chang. 2020, 195, 103356, doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2020.103356
Girona, T., Realmuto, V. & Lundgren, P. Large-scale thermal unrest of volcanoes for years prior to eruption. Nat. Geosci. 14, 238–241 (2021). doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00705-4
GIS and remote sensing techniques applied to a time series of satellite images and digital terrain models and integrated with available direct observations (glacier monitoring schemes, meteorological stations; observation of volcanic activities, satellite-borne measurements of volcanic temperature anomalies etc.).
Expected Training Provision
The PhD studentship is part of the NERC doctoral training centre “QUADRAT” (University of Aberdeen and Queen’s University Belfast). QUADRAT provides additional high-quality training in many aspects essential to future employment, including field-based experience, science communication skills and a Certificate in Strategic Management and Leadership. The PhD student will be based in Aberdeen, which offers a unique location within the UK to enjoy outdoor activities, while also maintaining the cultural attraction of a large city. It is the ideal gateway to some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern Europe, and is served by an international airport.
Volcanoes are deadly and affect local, national and international economies and people’s lives and wellbeing. Monitoring of volcanoes is crucial, and this project aims to study the relationship between volcanoes and glaciers and test whether volcanic glaciers can be used as thermometers, with the potential of providing a new monitoring tool for volcanoes unrest. In seeing glaciers as a source of information (rather than a problem), this study approaches the long-standing issue of volcano monitoring from a novel viewpoint. The impact of this work is potentially vitally important and far reaching, with direct and meaningful implications for people (more than 20 million live close to ice-clad volcanoes) across the globe. There are also broader (theoretical) implications for understanding how glaciers and volcanoes interact. This is not only relevant for associated hazard (e.g. floods and lahars) prediction and management, but is key to understanding how glaciers globally will respond to future climate warming.
The student will be supervised by a team of glaciologists, climatologists and volcanologists, led by Matteo Spagnolo.
1st year: Undertake a global assessment of the difference in equilibrium line altitude between volcanic and proximal non-volcanic glaciers, following the workflow we have already established on a pilot project undertaken for South America. The most interesting sites will then be targeted for further, more detailed investigations.
2nd year: Undertake a global assessment of the volcanic and proximal non-volcanic glacier velocities, and in selected areas investigate changes at seasonal and annual timescales, following the work already undertaken in a pilot study.
3rd year: Compare results with volcano temperatures derived from satellite remotely sensed data.
Throughout the PhD we anticipate multiple visits to supervisors in Belfast, Manchester, and the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Fairbanks (Alaska). It is anticipated that this will be a thesis by papers and that the student will generate three papers across the duration of the PhD.
A CASE partnership has been confirmed with Alaska Volcano Observatory.