Understanding volcanic eruptive behaviour is critical to managing risk to populations, infrastructure, critical systems and economy. The ash injected into and dispersed through the atmosphere during an explosive volcanic eruption has the potential to affect entire continents, with cascading secondary global impacts. Short-term forecasting of the onset of volcanic eruptions, changes during eruptions and volcanic hazards is possible due to diverse streams of monitoring data interpreted, modelled and reported by volcano monitoring institutions. This information is utilised by volcanic ash advisory centres (VAACs) to initiate numerical models to forecast the spread of volcanic ash in the atmosphere, and provide advisories to the aviation industry detailing affected areas. The project will use information contained within ash advisories, to develop novel statistical methodologies and tools, building on time series analysis, stochastic modelling, statistical pattern analysis and machine learning methods, to identify and understand patterns in eruptive behaviour both globally and on a volcano-by-volcano basis. Insights gained from analysis of the advisories will be compared to other streams of information (e.g. geological and observational data) to relate results to the physical processes governing eruptions.

Despite dissemination since the early 1990s these data have never been gathered and analysed within a research context as, until now, they have largely been considered only for operational purposes. However, analysis of these data, and their uncertainties, will help understand trends in volcanic behaviour and refine key inputs required for numerical modelling of ash dispersal and forecasting– key information required by the VAACs (Engwell et al. 2016).  The proposed PhD project will directly address this need and we invite applications from suitably qualified candidates.

The successful candidate will join the British Geological Survey volcanology team of eight researchers based at the Lyell Centre. For more information on our activities please visit our website:

The PhD project is supervised by a multi-disciplinary team comprised of Dr Sam Engwell at the BGS, and Prof Gabriel Lord and Prof Gavin Gibson from the Heriot-Watt University’s Maxwell Institute for Mathematical Sciences.


This is a full scholarship which will cover full tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £14,777.


This project is available to ALL students, whether home, EU or overseas. The successful candidate will preferably possess a masters and undergraduate degree in mathematics, statistics, engineering, physics, or earth sciences with a strong background in statistics and an interest in geological problems and hazards. Formally four years of university study including a minimum of one year at an advanced level are required.

How to apply

Please complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Geoscience and include the project reference, title and supervisor on your application. Please also provide a supporting statement, a CV, a copy of your degree certificates and relevant detailed transcripts and at least one academic or technical reference. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Please contact Dr Sam Engwell ( for further information.


The closing date for applications is 15 May 2018. Applicants must be available to start the PhD by Oct 2018.