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Unit information: Physics of Volcanoes and Hazardous Flows in 2016/17

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Unit name Physics of Volcanoes and Hazardous Flows
Unit code EASCM1015
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Rust
Open unit status Not open




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 hazardous flows such as lava flows, volcanic plumes, pyroclastic flows, landslides, lahars, debris flows and floods. The first half of 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. In the second half of the unit, the physical concepts will be applied to developing a deeper understanding of how volcanoes work, as well as case studies of a variety of hazardous geological flows.

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
  • Apply calculus and numerical methods to understanding hazardous 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 flows and use the information as input to 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

Teaching details

Practicals and lectures

Assessment Details

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

Reading and References

There is no specific required reading. Suggested reading may be identified by the lecturer.