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C328: Evaluating the importance of Icelandic volcanism for the Earth’s climate system (Lead Supervisor: Ulf Büntgen, Geography)


Supervisors: Ulf Büntgen (Geography), Clive Oppenheimer (Geography) and Christine Lane (Geography)

Imprtance of the Research:

Volcanic eruptions are catastrophic to their immediate environment, and may also affect the Earth’s climate dynamics and economies. The timing, magnitude and impact of historical eruptions, however, often remain unknown, because the quality and quantity of available proxy archives and written sources fades back in time. Moreover, our understanding of the signals of different types of volcanic eruptions in climatological time series (e.g., temperature means and precipitation totals) is limited. Iceland has an outstanding historical record of volcanism, with more than two hundred eruptions documented since its settlement circa 874 CE. Comparison of the record of volcanic events with annually-resolved and millennium-long temperature and hydroclimatic reconstructions will provide novel insights into eruption-specific response patterns across various spatiotemporal scales. This new palaeoclimatic knowledge, in tandem with a comprehensive tephrochronology will facilitate the assessment and interpretation of human-environmental interaction for historical Iceland.

Project Summary:

This project will investigate the effects of various types of volcanic eruptions on year-to-year and longer-term temperature and hydroclimatic changes at regional, continental and hemispheric scales. Development and analysis of a unique inventory of Icelandic eruptions and a global network of tree ring-based climate reconstructions for the last millennium, will allow quantification of the climatic responses to different volcanic events. Insight from the interface of palaeoclimatology and volcanology (tree rings, tephra and gas emission) will be compared with state-of-the-art climate model simulations. Direct and indirect influences of volcanic activity on climate variability and human history will be explored.

What the student will do:

The student will develop an inventory of volcanic eruptions that occurred on Iceland since its permanent settlement in circa 874 CE. This dataset will be analysed according to information on the timing, intensity and duration of most of the explosive and effusive eruptions that have been recorded over the past ~1100 years. You will create a set of eruption-chronologies differing in their temporal coverage, dating precision, and measures of magnitude. Furthermore, you will compile tephra chronologies, as well as high-resolution proxy reconstructions and state-of-the-art model simulations of regional, continental and hemispheric climate variability of the last millennium. Effects of the various subsets of Icelandic eruptions on annually-resolved, warm-season temperature and hydroclimatic changes will be reconstructed across a variety of spatiotemporal scales. Ultimately, the student will quantify the degree of climate forcing associated with different volcanic eruption types, and compare this new high-resolution palaeo record with documentary evidence.

Please contact the directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Büntgen, U. & Di Cosmo, N. 2016. Climatic and environmental aspects of the Mongol withdrawal from Hungary in 1242 CE. Nature Scientific Reports 6: 25606, doi: 10.1038/srep25606

Büntgen, U., Myglan, V.S., Charpentier Ljungqvist, F., McCormick, M., Di Cosmo, N., Sigl, M., Jungclaus, J., Wagner, S., Krusic, P.J., Esper, J., Kaplan, J.O., de Vaan, M.A.C., Luterbacher, J., Wacker, L., Tegel, W. & Kirdyanov, A.V. 2016. Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age from 536 to around 660 AD. Nature Geoscience 9: 231-236

Büntgen, U., Tegel, W., Nicolussi, K., McCormick, M., Frank, D., Trouet, V., Kaplan, J., Herzig, F., Heussner, U., Wanner, H., Luterbacher, J. & Esper, J. 2011. 2500 years of European climate variability and human susceptibility. Science 331: 578-582

Oppenheimer, C. 2011. Eruptions That Shook the World, Cambridge University Press. pp. 408

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project

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