Propagation of volcanic and non-volcanic landslides: a combined field, experimental and numerical approach

Project title: Propagation of volcanic and non-volcanic landslides: a combined field, experimental and numerical approach

Director of Studies: Dr Irene Manzella

2nd Supervisor: Dr Paul Cole 

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2018.

Project description

Mass flows such as rock avalanches, debris flows and lahars, can travel large distances destroying everything they encounter. However to date they are poorly understood as the interaction between the solid and fluid phases is highly complex and they can undergo a continuous rheology transition according to the variation of granular material fraction, composition and grain-size along the slope. Therefore, from a hazard-assessment perspective, it becomes extremely important to improve our understanding of the propagation and emplacement of these flows and to develop dedicated models that are efficient in predicting their runout.

The PhD student would address the following fundamental questions:

a) Which are the parameters influencing propagation?

b) Is there any difference between volcanic and non-volcanic flow behaviour?

c) Which models are the most effective in a predictive perspective?

This project will involve field work and a series of granular flow laboratory experiments to study the effects of volume, material characteristics, water content and topography on mobility and emplacement mechanisms.

Field work will involve mapping and sample collection of historic events in volcanic (Cotopaxi, Ecuador) and in non-volcanic environments (Valle d’Aosta, Italy). The PhD student will then work on the comparison of different type of codes validating and comparing them on well-constrained field cases study and analogue experiments.

The results obtained with this multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach will represent a breakthrough in this field giving a new insight into the dynamic of these complex flows and contributing in a radical improvement of the assessment of the related risk.


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,553 per annum. The studentship will only fund those applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between Home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Irene Manzella. However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at: 

Please apply via the online application form which can be found at: and select 'Apply'.

Please mark FAO Sharon Healy, clearly stating that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and 2 academic references.

For more information on the admissions process please contact Sharon Healy.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 February, 2018. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview week beginning 19 March. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer by 30 March should consider their application has been unsuccessful.