Search site

School of Geography

Volcano-climate interactions in the Holocene

Supervisors: Dr. Graeme Swindles, Dr. Anja Schmidt, Dr. Ivan Savov

Enquiries to: G.T.Swindles(at)

This project seeks to understand the link between climate, Icelandic volcanism and the transport of volcanic ash to Europe.

[1] The volcanic ash or ‘tephra’ cloud resulting from the relatively small-magnitude eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 caused major air travel disruption, at substantial global economic cost. On several occasions in the past few centuries, Icelandic eruptions have created ash and/ or sulphur dioxide clouds, which were detected over Europe (e.g. Hekla in 1947, Askja in 1875, and Laki in 1783 – Stevenson et al., 2015). We have extended and refined our understanding of volcanic ash clouds affecting Europe during the Holocene by detecting and analysing the traces of tephra preserved in lakes and bogs (Swindles et al., 2011).

[2] In our previous research we have observed that there are major changes in the frequency and character of volcanic eruptions in Iceland and the presence/absence of volcanic ash in deposition records of these eruptions in Europe. There is growing evidence for interaction between climate state and volcanic activity (McGuire, 2010; Schmidt et al., 2015). We observe several periods of low volcanic activity corresponding to cold periods in the Holocene and potential volcanic flare-ups during periods of warmer climate. This may be linked to the dynamic nature of ice masses on Iceland affecting crustal loading and unloading as well as hydrogeology of volcanic vents.

[3] This project will test hypotheses concerning the link between climate and volcanic activity by utilizing existing and new volcanic ash deposit datasets from Iceland and Europe alongside climate reconstructions and proxy data from the North Atlantic region (terrestrial, marine and ice-core). The student will work on compiling all available data on volcanic ash from Iceland and Europe and where required will work on filling key gaps in this record (Swindles et al., 2011, 2013). Following this we envisage that the student will become familiar with response of ice masses to climate change and the potential effect on volcanism. Accordingly we expect that the student will use the state of the art tephra database alongside climate reconstructions and information on changing ice masses over Iceland in the Holocene in order to develop a testable model where climate and volcanism are explicitly linked. This model will be used to determine whether increasing rates of volcanism can be expected under future climate change scenarios based climate model projections downscaled for the North Atlantic region. Using this projected change in the frequency of eruptions, the student will carry out dispersion model simulations using the UK Met Office’s NAME model in order to assess the probability of ash concentrations exceeding certain thresholds and that of ash deposition across Europe.

[4] This work is of major importance as the ash cloud of 2010 caused billions of pounds of damages to the global economy and infrastructure and an increase in the frequency of Icelandic volcanism may be driven by projected temperature increases.


McGuire, W.J. 2010. Potential for a hazardous geospheric response to projected future climate changes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 368, 2317-2345.

Swindles, G.T., Lawson, I.T., Savov, I.P., Connor, C., Plunkett, G. 2011. A 7000-year perspective on volcanic ash clouds affecting Northern Europe. Geology 39, 887-890.

Swindles, G.T., Savov, I.P., C.B. Connor, Carrivick, J., Watson, E., Lawson, I. T., 2013. Volcanic ash clouds affecting Northern Europe: the long view. Geology Today 29, 214-217

Schmidt, A., Fristad, K., Elkins-Tanton, L.T. 2015. Volcanism and Global Environmental Change, Cambridge University Press (book).

Stevenson, J.A., Millington, S.C., Beckett, F.M., Swindles, G.T. and Thordarson, T. 2015. Big Grains Go Far: Reconciling tephrochronology with atmospheric measurements of volcanic ash. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques 8, 2069-2091.

Entry requirements/necessary background for students

Earth sciences, Environmental Science or Physical Geography degree is essential.


This project can be applied for in conjunction with Leeds Anniversary Scholarship (LARS) funding. For further information, please click here

Further information about PICC: