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Unit information: Physical Volcanology in 2020/21

Unit name Physical Volcanology
Unit code EASC30062
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1A (weeks 1 - 6)
Unit director Professor. Rust
Open unit status Not open

Undergraduates: Successful completion of years 1 and 2 of the Environmental Geoscience, Geology or Geophysics degree programme curriculum

MSc Volcanology students: none



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit explores how volcanoes work. The overall aim is to develop an understanding of the physics of volcanic processes and apply this knowledge to understanding volcanic eruptions and the geology of volcanoes.

Topics such as the properties of magma and the kinetics of crystallization and vesiculation will be linked to the dynamics of various styles of volcanic eruptions. Students will learn how models built with basic physics, chemistry and fluid dynamics provide insights into how and why volcanoes erupt. They will also learn how to infer processes that occurred during volcanic eruptions from studying eruption products.

Finally, the field of volcanology will be related to other fields including climatology, petrology, engineering, natural resources and hazards.

Worked solutions and general feedback on practical assignments will be posted on Blackboard. Analogue experiments will be done in groups and formative feedback on the design, analysis and interpretation of the experiments will provided through small-group discussions with the unit director.

Intended learning outcomes

Students should be able to:

  • Describe and debate the fundamental principles that govern the different kinds of volcanic eruption
  • Classify, recognise and interpret major kinds of volcanic deposits within the framework of physical understanding of the processes that formed them
  • Apply fluid dynamics principles to volcanic processes
  • Relate volcanology to other topics in Earth Sciences such as climate, natural resources and petrology
  • Design and evaluate an experiment methodology to test a specific hypothesis using analogue materials
  • Recognise limitations of analogues and models
  • Evaluate data with computer programmes through calculations and plots

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Details

End-of-unit timed open-book examination (100%)

Reading and References


  • Sigurdsson, Houghton, McNutt, Rymer, Stix (2015), Encyclopedia of Volcanoes 2nd edition, Elsevier. ISBN:9780123859389
  • Parfitt and Wilson (2008) Fundamentals of Physical Volcanology, Blackwell, 256pp

Further Reading

Relevant journal articles will also be included on Blackboard.