Geography: Fully Funded PhD at Swansea: using cryptotephra

  • Phd
  • Full cost of UK tuition fees and an annual stipend
  • 8 August 2021
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Geography: Fully Funded PhD Scholarship: Constraining the timing and scale of past explosive volcanism and climate change using cryptotephra

Project title: Fully Funded PhD scholarship: Constraining the timing and scale of past explosive volcanism and climate change using cryptotephra preserved in Mediterranean sedimentary archives

Project Supervisors:
Supervisor 1: Dr Paul Albert (Department of Geography, Swansea University)
Supervisor 2: Prof. Siwan Davies (Department of Geography, Swansea University)

External Advisors:
Dr Biagio Giaccio (Istituto di Geologia Ambientale e Geoingegneria, CNR, Italy)
Prof. Giovanni Zanchetta (Università di Pisa, Italy)

Project start date: October 2021

Project description:
Volcanic hazard assessments are in part constrained by the past behaviour of eruptive centres, which is largely reconstructed from ash (tephra) fall records preserved near the volcano. These records are often fragmentary and incomplete in nature, meaning that hazard assessments can be erroneous. Gaps in these near-source records are more acute deeper in time, and consequently reconstructions are biased towards shorter-term records which do not reflect the full range and frequency of eruptive activity. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that even large magnitude eruptions are sometimes lost from the near-source volcanic records, due to burial and erosional processes, while statistical analysis of global eruption databases reveals that low- to mid-intensity eruptions are especially vulnerable to under-recording. Even low- to mid-intensity explosive eruptions are still highly disruptive, with major societal impacts.

This project will capitalise on the huge potential of long, undisturbed records of ash fall events preserved in Mediterranean palaeoclimate archives (e.g. lake and marine sedimentary successions), situated in distal areas, to fill the gaps in eruption records. Specifically, the student will exploit microscopic ash layers (cryptotephra) as a tool for resolving the low- to mid-intensity eruptions. Initially the focus will be on cryptotephra layers preserved in the Fucino Basin archive from Central Italy which spans approximately the last 2 Ma. The project aims to; (1) reconstruct a long, comprehensive ash fall record from the sediments spanning the last 250,000 years; (2) integrate the ash fall events in Fucino with near-source deposits and those recorded in other distal archives to constrain the timing, scale and ash dispersal patterns of past eruptions, particularly from the active Neapolitan volcanoes (Campi Flegrei, Ischia and Vesuvius), and thus contribute to improved ash fall hazard assessments; (3) use the cryptotephra layers traced across Mediterranean palaeoclimate archives as time-markers to assess the regional development of past climate changes.

This studentship will combine field and laboratory based volcanic investigations. Density separation techniques will be employed to extract cryptotephra, while the major (EMP) and trace element (LA-ICP-MS) glass chemistry will be used to determine their volcanic source, and to correlate them to ash layers preserved in other key regional sedimentary records. Reliably correlating ash fall layers between sedimentary successions will be essential for precisely constraining the fall footprint and scale of individual eruptions, whilst more accurately assessing eruption frequencies. The Fucino Basin, ca. 150 km north of the Neapolitan volcanoes is uniquely located for reconstructing eruptive frequencies and capturing ash plumes along a northerly trajectory. Only by integrating the Fucino ash fall record with others across the region is it possible to reliably assess eruption return intervals and inform more reliable hazard assessments.


Candidates must have a first, upper second-class honours or a master’s degree with Merit, in a relevant discipline.

For candidates whose first language is not English, we require IELTS 6.5 (with 6.0 in each component) or equivalent. Please visit our website for a list of acceptable English language tests. We prefer candidates to have already met the English Language requirements at the point of application, although this is not a requirement.

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is available to UK/EU candidates only.


Do you wish to become an international student next year?
Demonstrate your English skills with IELTS.


This is a three year fully-funded College of Science scholarship, and provides the cost of UK tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,245.

EU applicants: The scholarship will cover the cost of UK/Home tuition fees only. Applicants may apply for the PGR EU Transitional Bursary to cover the difference between UK and EU/international tuition fees.


Please visit our website for more information.
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