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Award details

From the ground up: Multimethod constraints on the intensity of volcanic eruptions, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Earth and Environmental Science. Ref: 4591

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr. Thomas J. Auby

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


Additional Supervisors

Dr. Samantha L. Engwell

Location: British Geological Survey (BGS), Edinburgh.

Dr. Arnau Folch Duran

Location:  Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Plaça Eusebi Güell, 1-3, 08034 Barcelona (Spain)

Prof. Matthew Watson

Location: School of Earth Sciences, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, Bristol.

About the Partnership

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 eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Project details

Two images the first 34The volcanic ash cloud generated by the 23 February 2013 Mt Etna eruption credit Salvatore AllegraAP 34 and the second 34Corresponding model simulation of the ash fallout deposit Prata et al 2021 34

Project Background

Volcanic ash and gas clouds pose significant hazards to human life, infrastructure, and aircraft. Understanding the relationship between the height of a volcanic plume, the intensity of an eruption (i.e. its mass flux) and atmospheric conditions at the volcano is key to managing eruptive crises, reconstructing past eruption dynamics, and preparing for future eruptions. Eruption intensity estimates vary by orders of magnitude depending on measurement method. These uncertainties undermine volcanic hazard management. Furthermore, it is currently unknown how climate change could affect the life cycle and dispersion of volcanic ash and subsequent hazards.

Project Aims and Methods

You will be encouraged to design your own project in the broad area of the rise and dispersion of volcanic plumes, based on your own ideas and preferences.

Our vision is that you will take advantage of novel datasets and state-of-the-art models to conduct a systematic comparison of eruption intensity estimates derived from: i) empirical field relationships; ii) ash dispersion models; and iii) satellite observations of volcanic clouds. You will get familiar with these methods for a case study eruption for which you will collect data on the ash deposit during field work, before extending your work to all eruptions for which required data are available in the literature. Your project will contribute to IVESPA (, a database of eruption source parameters endorsed by the international volcanology community in which intensity currently only rely on field-derived estimates. Ultimately, you will help stakeholders such as the BGS or the UK Met Office to improve advisories delivered to authorities during eruptive crises. In a forward-looking phase, you could apply your new skills in ash dispersion modelling to understand how climate change could modulate volcanic hazards at volcanoes in Guatemala, Italy, and Iceland. 

Candidate requirements

Applicants should hold a degree in Earth Sciences, physics, mathematics, or related fields. Strong skills and prior experience with scientific programming (e.g. Python, Fortran, Matlab) are preferred. Specialist knowledge in volcanology or atmospheric sciences would be a bonus but is not required.

Project partners 

You will work hand-in-hand with your interdisciplinary supervisory team and their international partners in volcanology, climate sciences and governmental agencies. We anticipate that you will spend 2-3 months in Barcelona at GEO3BCN with Arnau Folch, 1 month in Edinburgh at BGS with Samantha Engwell, and 3 weeks doing fieldwork abroad (potential locations: Guatemala or Indonesia). In addition to the £14,250 provided by the DTP for research and training activities, you will have access to high performance computing resources from GEO3BCN and we are applying for an additional budget of £8,000 from the BGS to support your research activities and placements.


You will get training in scientific programming and modelling, one of the most marketable skills for both academic and non-academic employers, at the University of Exeter and GEO3BCN. You will gain experience in volcanology, including through fieldwork abroad, and training in volcanic deposit analyzing at the BGS in Edinburgh. You will improve your communications skills by presenting your results at least two international conferences and one UK conference as well as in scientific papers.

Background reading and references

Aubry, T.J. et al. (including S.L. Engwell), 2021,

Aubry, T.J. et al., 2022,

Mastin et al. (including S.L. Engwell), 2021,

Prata, A.T. et al. (including A. Folch), 2021,


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 2023 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.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. 
We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

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 2359 hours GMT Monday 9 January 2023. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2023.  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:9th January 2023
Value:£17,668 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries