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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Ulf Büntgen (Geography), Clive Oppenheimer (Geography), Christine Lane (Geography) and Anja Schmidt (Geography)

Importance of the area of research:

Volcanic eruptions are catastrophic to their immediate environment, and may also affect the Earth's climate dynamics and economies. The timing, magnitude and impact of historical eruptions, however, often remain unknown, because quality and quantity of the available proxy archives and written sources is fading back in time. Moreover, our understanding of the effects of different types of volcanic eruptions on year-to-year and longer-term changes in summer and winter temperature means and precipitation totals is limited. At the same time, Iceland provides a unique record of more than two hundred volcanic eruptions that occurred since the first human settlement in the 870s CE. Comparison of Iceland's volcanic history with annually-resolved temperature and hydroclimate reconstructions, will provide novel insights into eruption-specific response patterns across various spatiotemporal scales. The expected findings will also facilitate the assessment and interpretation of putative climate-environment-human interaction.

Project summary:

This project will investigate the effects of various types of volcanic eruptions on year-to-year and longer term temperature and hydroclimate changes at regional, continental and hemispheric scales. Development and analysis of a unique inventory of Icelandic eruptions and a global network of tree ring-based climate reconstructions for the last millennium, will allow quantification of the climatic responses to different volcanic events. Insight from the interface of paleoclimatology and volcanology (tree rings, tephra and gas emission) will be compared with climate model simulations. Direct and indirect influences of volcanic activity on climate variability and human history will be explored.

What the student will do:

You will develop an inventory of volcanic eruptions that occurred on Iceland since its permanent settlement in the 870s CE. This dataset will be analysed according to information on the timing, intensity and duration of most of the explosive and effusive eruptions that have been recorded over the past ~1100 years. You create eruption-chronologies of differing temporal coverage, dating precision, and measures of magnitude, to assess their effects on warm-season temperature and hydroclimate changes across a variety of spatiotemporal scales. You will ultimately quantify the degree of climate forcing associated with different volcanic eruption types, and compare this new high-resolution archive with tephra chronologies, documentary sources, and state-of-the-art model simulations. Being part of a vibrant, interdisciplinary network, not only within Cambridge, but also across the UK and elsewhere, you will benefit from the expertise of many leading scientists in their fields.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Büntgen, U., Eggertsson, Ó., Wacker, L., Sigl, M., Ljungqvist, F.C., Di Cosmo, N., Plunkett, G., Krusic, P.J., Newfield, T.P., Esper, J., Lane, C., Reinig, F. & Oppenheimer, C. 2017 Multi-proxy dating of Iceland’s major pre-settlement Katla eruption to 822-823 CE. Geology 45: 783-786

Büntgen, U., Myglan, V.S., Charpentier Ljungqvist, F., McCormick, M., Di Cosmo, N., Sigl, M., Jungclaus, J., Wagner, S., Krusic, P.J., Esper, J., Kaplan, J.O., de Vaan, M.A.C., Luterbacher, J., Wacker, L., Tegel, W. & Kirdyanov, A.V. 2016. Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 AD. Nature Geoscience 9: 231-236

Oppenheimer, C. 2011. Eruptions That Shook the World, Cambridge University Press. pp. 408

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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