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Award details

Probing the dynamics of hydrothermal systems at polar active volcanic calderas and their role in volcanic unrest, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Geology Ref: 4240

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr James Hickey, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines (Geology)

Additional Supervisors

Dr Adelina Geyer Traver, Geosciences Barcelona/GEO3BCN, CSIC

Prof Joachim Gottsmann, University of Bristol, School of Earth Sciences


Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Camborne School of Mines, Cornwall

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:


Deception Island volcano during an eruption in 1967. Image credit: Global Volcanism Program.

Project details

Project Background

Volcanic eruptions pose a threat to ~10% of the world’s population. To enable eruption forecasting, carry out hazard assessments, and mitigate risk, a thorough understanding of volcanic unrest is essential. Active volcanic areas, and calderas in particular, are commonly related to the presence of hydrothermal systems, which can drive volcanic unrest in combination with, or independent of, active magmatic intrusions or renewed magma supply, making the interpretation of observed unrest signals (e.g., deformation, seismicity, degassing) problematic. Polar and sub-polar calderas (e.g., Krafla and Torfajökull, Iceland; Deception Island, Antarctica) have added complications arising from extreme climate conditions and the presence of ice/snow cover, which affect the water recharge of their hydrothermal systems, stress-strain distributions, and the products of their eruptions, amongst others. Compared to lower-latitude calderas, there is still much to understand about hydrothermal system dynamics at polar/sub-polar active calderas 


Torfajökull volcano, with thick lava flows present. Image credit: Global Volcanism Program.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will interrogate the peculiarities of polar and sub-polar caldera hydrothermal systems to improve understanding of how their dynamics dictate or impact geophysical signs of volcanic unrest. Using numerical modelling of heat transfer, fluid flow and solid/rock mechanics, the student will assess the role of fractures, volcano-tectonics, glacial loading, and others on hydrothermal circulation and its surface and subsurface manifestations (e.g., volcano deformation, seismicity, and stress distributions). Deception Island and Torfajökull volcano form the two main case studies; results will be used to help guide future assessments of volcanic unrest, including the type, amount and location of volcanic events.

Candidate requirements

In addition to the entry requirements detailed below, relevant (though not essential) skills include: volcanology, numerical modelling, computer programming/coding, GIS, and geophysics.

Project partners 

This project is an exciting collaboration between the Universities of Exeter and Bristol, and Geosciences Barcelona. The unique combination of project partners will provide the successful student with access to expert resources and supervision, and experience working in non-university research. The project will also work in collaboration with a large research project called HYDROCAL (Structure And Dynamics Of Hydrothermal Systems In Polar Volcanic Calderas) providing further networking and collaboration potential across Europe, New Zealand and Mexico.


The successful student will be based on the Penryn (Cornwall) campus of the University of Exeter, where they will receive training in modelling methods, communication tools, and the research area, with access to excellent computational geophysical facilities. The student will additionally benefit from significant involvement and exchange periods with Geosciences Barcelona in Spain, where further geophysical data processing and modelling skills will be developed. Further collaboration will see the student visiting the University of Bristol to enhance their professional network and broaden their volcanological knowledge. Additional training opportunities, including data science, modelling and volcanology courses provided external to the supervisory team, will be recommended, including overseas options in Europe/the USA.

Background reading and references

Some relevant background reading includes:
Hickey, J., Gottsmann, J., et al. (2016) Thermomechanical controls on magma supply and volcanic deformation: application to Aira caldera, Scientific Reports, 6, 32691.
Geyer, A., et al. (2021). Chapter 7.1 Deception Island. In Volcanism in Antarctica: 200 Million Years of Subduction, Rifting and Continental Break-Up (Vol. 55, pp. 667–693). Geological Society, London, Memoirs.
Soosalu, H. et al. (2006) Low-frequency earthquakes at the Torfajökull volcano, south Iceland. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 153(3), 187–199.

Useful links

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via and see for more general information.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Friday 10 January 2022. Interviews will be held between 28 February and 4 March 2022.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:10th January 2022
Value:£15,609 per annum for 2021-2022
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries