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Unit information: Physical Volcanology and Geological Flows in 2016/17

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Unit name Physical Volcanology and Geological Flows
Unit code EASC30047
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Rust
Open unit status Not open

Successful completion of years 1 and 2 of either the Environmental Geoscience or the Geology degree programme curriculum



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit deals with the flow and deformation properties of geological materials and the fundamental concepts of fluid dynamics in the context of geological flows such as lava flows, volcanic plumes, pyroclastic flows, landslides, lahars, debris flows and floods.

The unit will teach the physical foundation including conservation of mass, energy and momentum, interaction of flow with rigid boundaries, buoyancy-driven flow, multiphase flow, and mechanisms of heat transfer. Throughout these lessons, the relevance of these concepts will be illustrated with idealized examples of geological flows. The physical concepts will be applied to developing a deeper understanding how volcanoes work, as well as case studies of a variety of hazardous geological flows.

Most of the practical sessions will involve applications of maths and computing (Matlab and Excel) skills to scientific problems.

There will be support sessions for those students who need to reiew these skills.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit students will be able to:

  • Use dimensional analysis to form relationships between quantities that are observed to influence the dynamics of geological flows
  • Apply the principles of mechanics to determine the balance of forces that control the motion of geological flows
  • Recognize how calculus is useful in understanding flows
  • Describe and debate the fundamental principles that govern the different kinds of volcanic eruption
  • Classify, recognise and interpret major kinds of volcanic deposits and rocks within the framework of physical understanding of the processes that formed them
  • Identify key observations from recent examples of hazardous geological flows and use the information as input to simplified models to determine the flow dynamics and runout
  • Design and evaluate an experiment methodology to test a specific hypothesis using analogue materials in a laboratory.
  • Be able to input data into computer programmes and make calculations and plots to evaluate the data.

Teaching details

lectures and practicals

Assessment Details

There will be a closed examination (70%) in January and continuous assessment (30%) of coursework.

Reading and References


  • Parfitt and Wilson (2008) Fundamentals of Physical Volcanology, Blackwell, 256pp
  • Tritton (1988) Physical Fluid Dynamics , Oxford University Press, 519pp
  • Furbish (1997) Fluid Physics in Geology, An Introduction to Fluid Motions on Earth's Surface and Within Its Crust, Oxford University Press, 476pp
  • Fagents, S.A., Gregg, T., Lopes, R.M.C., (2013), Modeling Volcanic Processes, Cambridge Unversity Press

Relevant articles will also be included on Blackboard.