Tuesday, 4 June 2013

PhD studentship
3D visualization of volcanic hazards - more info
The general information about this and other Geology studentships on offer at Plymouth University can be found at:


The closing date for applications is 28 June.

For further details, please contact the main PI - Paul Cole
PhD studentship
3D visualization of volcanic hazards
Communicating the nature, sequence and impact of hazardous phenomena that occur during volcanic eruptions is a major challenge to volcanologists and disaster managers. Successful communication of the potential implications of such eruptive phenomena is essential in order to maximize risk reduction.

Many volcanic hazards, such as pyroclastic density currents and lahars for example, are either unknown to, or are very poorly understood by the general public. Furthermore many of the people at threat - who live in areas around these volcanoes, particularly in developing countries - are unfamiliar with using traditional 2D depictions, such as hazard maps. Some research indicates that 3D visualizations are a more effective way of communicating hazard information than 2D maps (e.g. Haynes et al 2007).

Specifically, this studentship will generate interactive 3D computer visualizations of hazards from potential future volcanic eruptions. It will build on expertise from the
Interactive Systems Studioat Plymouth University, which specialises in virtual and augmented reality solutions for public engagement using web and mobile technologies and will be underpinned by the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences growing reputation in geoscience outreach.
This studentship will integrate CRES/UP with the large NERC/ESRC consortium STREVA (Strengthening Resilience in Volcanic Areas), of which Plymouth University is a project partner. The STREVA project runs from July 2012 to July 2016, across the entire duration of this studentship, and this work falls within the
Communication Analysiswork package. The STREVA project will implement new methods and techniques developed for hazard and risk analysis and communication at a range of volcanoes in the greater Caribbean region.
Therefore this studentship will make use of this excellent opportunity of timely integration with relevant on-going risk reduction research.

This studentship will develop 3D visualizations of eruptive phenomena in a user friendly computational environment (as opposed to much more technically challenging
Aim This studentship will develop 3D dimensional visualizations of hazardous eruptive phenomena within a user friendly computational to contribute toward risk reduction and increase resilience of populations at volcanoes Objectives
In conjunction with the STREVA consortium, develop potential eruption scenarios at a STREVA volcano e.g. Soufriere (St Vincent, West Indies), Cerro Machin (Columbia), and Cuicocha (Ecuador).
 Follow an agile methodology for iterative development of software prototypes

 Develop interactive 3D visualizations of eruption scenarios as a communication tool for the general public, possibly within a user friendly platform e.g. Smart phones

 Implement visualizations on realistic 3D topography on at least one STREVA volcano

 Evaluate results of usability testing to inform future development of interactive 3D visualisation for public engagement.

Travel/fieldwork It is envisaged that the student will travel to at least one of the STREVA volcanoes in order to evaluate/ test the effectiveness of the visualization tools. Software Development The student will spend a proportion of their time with the Interactive Systems Studio to ensure a robust approach to software design and implementation. This will provide insight into related research and development and provide mentoring in specialised areas. Supervisory team

Director of Studies
- Dr Paul Cole (Centre for Research in Earth Sciences, Plymouth University) Prof Iain Stewart (Centre for Research in Earth Sciences, Plymouth University)
Dr Dan Livingstone (Interactive Systems Studio, School of Computing and Mathematics, Plymouth University)
Dr Jenni Barclay (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) STREVA consortium PI

Candidate Experience This studentship would suit an Earth Science graduate with strong computational experience and/or interests. A computer science or game development graduate with interests in Earth Science would also be considered. Programming ability with C# or related language is highly desirable. Experience of XML, JavaScript and development tools such as Unity 3D is highly desirable. References Haynes K, Barclay J, Pidgeon N. (2007) Volcanic hazard communication using maps: an evaluation of their effectiveness. Bulletin of Volcanology70: 123-138

Monday, 11 February 2013

Why Plymouth ?

With the next UCAS Preview Day looming, a few of us here were musing about why students actually choose to come to Plymouth. Is it our dazzling research, our dazzling personalities, our dazzling modules or is it cheap beer, salty sea air and surfboard fetish? A snap poll with former students on Facebook over the weekend revealed the following…neatly summarised in this Wordle by Sarah B…
We're trying to figure out the reasons why students come to do geoscience with us at Plymouth. So, simple question: Why did you choose Plymouth?
No major essays - just a sentence or two pls.
I'll out the list together and re-post.
Thomas Wood Friendly, professional, knowledgeable and world leading staff. Tons of vital fieldwork to great locations.
Ralf Krauze Didn't get into my primary choice! (Glad I didn't though, Plymouth was by a long way better)
Sean Andrew Barrett fieldwork and got a 'warm and fuzzy' feeling from the department
Natalie White lots of field trips!! x
Ross Minall lots of fieldwork was the main reason
Casper Mortensen Fieldwork
Daniel Reynolds Field trips, attitude of the lecturers and it put on an outstanding open day.
Daniel Reynolds also cheap and fun nights out!
Matthew Catterall Location looked awesome, prospectus really made it stand out from the other unis!
Jenny Wiggins Good distance from home, far enough from the parents but not too far... and offered the course that sounded most interesting at the time! Oh and very impressed on the open day :)
David Chapman The staff were very friendly during the open day. Everywhere else felt very formal but Plymouth made me feel like I was part of the department straight away.
Jen Mitchell Best course for me as it is well-rounded, interesting fieldtrips and flexibility for changing between BSc Geology and MGeol
Victoria Marks Open day! It was a friendly, relaxed environment with lecturers interacting with potential students. I like the tour of campus as well, it shows that everything is close to hand. You don't need to get buses from one part to another like in some cities.
Kath Williams Open day was really good, staff were friendly, it was a campus university with everything was so close and the fieldtrips
Darrell Fuller Open day for me relaxed, friendly and generally good. Plus the campus is pretty impressive.
Hope Thomas Great open day, friendly staff and it was very sunny! Felt like people and place I could spend 3 years with, and a good course of course.
Philip Green I loved the location so close to Cornwall and the facilities were really good along with friendly and helpful staff.
Alex Cutts Open day + places left in clearing...
Megan Heather Open day was amazing, just got a really welcoming feeling from the staff and current students sounded really enthusiastic about the course. The field trips (+bursary) was a big plus and I liked how everything was close together but you weren't far away from the countryside.
Tracy Aze It was a university in Devon, and Devon is lush!
Ashley Tarr Because it is near Cornwall and the surf is great!
Hope Thomas The open day was good because there were so many staff there, most unis only send a few.
Johnny Powell I was bumming around in a dead end job when someone said, do a degree, it's easy... you don't have to work for 3 years & my mums got a house in Devon.... So, I tried a computing degree - it was far from easy. Thus, Geoscience was the answer! :) it was a cracking decision though ;)
Sarah Baker The open day was really good, lots of field trips including ones abroad, and the staff seemed really friendly and good humoured!
Callum Hatch The course seemed to be better run and managed than it was at the other university I was looking at.
Magnus Worthington One word: Fieldtrips!
Lucy Hickman Friendly lecturers, modern airy library and by the sea, Cornwall and dartmoor :)
Amir Abbasi Fieldtrips, and attitudes of the lecturers and staff.
Lucy Hickman Oh and because there was a celebrity lecturer there :p
Lucy Cotton Field trips are the main reason for me, and now I am here another great thing is is the relationship students develop with the lecturers.
Many other students don't have the amazing field tips and lecturers.
Claire Lawrence It felt like home as soon as I arrived :-) I loved everything about it, the closeness of the HoR to campus, the closeness of the town centre. The course was amazing with such a good overview of the subject. It was thumbs up all over!
Jack Cottam Decent amount of field trips, friendly atmosphere and nicest sandwiches of any uni open day I had been to!
Lucy Cotton Brilliant spread at every occasion.
Susan Bullock Nash My options were Plymouth or Marjons because of logistics, and the Geosciences Dept at Plymouth seemed far better equipped with better choices of modules.
Ross Laidlaw Fieldwork and the campus was in the perfect location. Plus Colin sold it to me!!
Ian Rogers A city by the sea with an acceptance criteria that suited me.
Isabelle Mumby I liked the relaxed atmosphere around the campus and the field trips on the course :-)
Brett Metcalfe Devon, Friendlier than Exeter, Fieldwork
Chris Facetious Cook Great industry trained staff, not snobbish like Exeter, good field trips, great university in a good city. The friendly approachable relationship with lecturers is also important.
Josh Aves By the coast , great open day ,great city , lots,of feildtrips
TiarnĂ¡n Colgan location mainly
Roy Rule Not first choice: but when you have the moors on one side and the sea on the other, and the best fieldtrips in britain, Who cares?!
Eleanor Cronin The staff seemed the most approachable of all of the faculty I met at the other open days. Also the field trips sounded interesting and relevant.
o     Joseph Richardson The fieldwork definitely. By studying at Plymouth I visited Spain, Sicily, Norway and the USA, along with a few closer to home.

Geology / Earth Science (delete where necessary)

In 2006, something dramatic happened in geoscience education in Western Australia. That year, the long standing (and mandatory) provision to teach Geology at Year 11/12 (equivalent to UK Key Stage 5; A-Level) was terminated. A subject which for years had struggled with falling numbers among students and schools seemed to have been finally put out of its misery.

“Interest and awareness of geology in high schools in WA - the world’s leading mining and exploration province, is at a low ebb with only five schools currently teaching the Geology Course” lamented Jim Ross, the Chair of Earth Science Western Australia (ESWA) (1,2). With its demise, Geology in WA was destined to have its key components buried within a new module: ‘Environmental Science’.

ESTWA - a consortium representing the University of Western Australia, Curtin University of Technology, CSIRO, the Geological Survey of WA and the WA Museum - took up the fight. Alarmed by the possibility of Geology slipping under the radar of school students, they campaigned to help redesign and write the curriculum for the new course and successfully lobbied to change its name. The resulting ‘Earth and Environmental Science’ now delivers 50/50 geoscience and environmental science content.

The effect of this new branding of Geology has been truly transformative. As the graphs below show, the transfer from the old Geology course to the new Earth and Environmental Science course in 2007 saw a huge boost in the number of schools and students having access to geoscience.

Figure 1: Plots showing the uptake of ‘Geology (green) and )’Earth & Environmental Science’ (Red) amongst students (left) and schools (right) in Western Australia.

What’s more, this increase has continued apace with a rising engagement of schools in ESWA’s geoscience outreach programmes, not just at lower Secondary level but also at Primary too. Such is the remarkable reversal in fortunes for geoscience in WA that many of Oz’s east coast states - equally afflicted by dwindling geoscience school numbers - are thinking seriously about going down the same rebranding route.

Figure 2: Plot showing increasing schools engagement with Earth Science Western Australia activities following the 2007 introduction of the Earth & Environmental Science course.

The Western Australian experience in recasting a faltering Geology in the guise of Earth and Environmental Science is instructive because here in the UK we are having our own difficulties with Geology in secondary school education. The situation is arguably most acute in Scotland, where low uptakes mean that the old Geology Higher course is on its way out (along with Managing Environmental Resources), both to be replaced by Environmental Science.Teachers protest that the low uptake is driven by the low numbers of teachers supporting the subject because no new teachers in Geology have been trained since 1985.  That has a knock-on effect because “...the perception of Geology as a low uptake subject means that Head Teachers identify it as a subject to cut in times of financial difficulty which further reduces pupil enrolment in Geology qualifications.” (3)

The concern amongst professional Earth scientists and Geology classroom practitioners north of the border is that any decline at secondary school level will quickly impact on the vitality of the university sector. “Uptake of university places in Geology, Earth sciences and Geosciences are related to the numbers enrolled in upper level qualifications in secondary school... Without Higher Geology, the numbers of Scottish pupils enrolling in undergraduate Geology or Earth science degree courses will drop, and the production of qualified Scottish geologists ready for careers in the biggest sector of the future Scottish economy will drop.” (3). In contrast to Western Australia, Scotland’s new Environmental Science A-level is taking shape with minimal geoscience input, suggesting that any tartan resurgence in Geology is some way off.

At first glance, the situation in England & Wales looks far rosier. GCSE, AS and A-level numbers are climbing, reversing what had previously been a long and steady decline. At Advanced level uptake in Geology is even outpacing its nemesis, Environmental Science.

But against a background of rising student interest in Geology in English and Welsh schools, some teachers are alarmed about a potential threat that might yet offset these gains. Ironically, that threat emerges from the very sector that is set to benefit from the hard-won successes in the classroom: the universities. That’s because many of the major geoscience departments in the UK are not exactly enthusiastic about A-level Geology as a core entry subject. According to the Russell Group, for example, the ‘essential subjects that secure entry to Geology/Earth Science as Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology; Geology languishes with Geography as one of two ‘useful’ subjects (4). Many of the 1994 group universities adopt a similar admissions stance. In the schools, the decision to exclude Geology from the top table of ‘facilitating’ subjects may already be having a detrimental effect. One teacher wrote to me warning of “...a considerable, and disturbing, amount of lack of confidence in our subject/discipline from both parents and students, as a result of reports in the media. The main concern is, their ambitions to study at a RG/1994 group university will be compromised by selecting geology as an A level.” 

It is easy to speculate as to why Geology might be viewed by admissions tutors as not being especially facilitating. After all, having a Geology A-level probably means coming in to geoscience with one less Science, which could limit students in some aspects of the sprawling, inter-connected multiverse of Earth system science. Also, an entry cohort with a mix of students with and without advanced level geoscience is tricky to cater for at the introductory level. Finally, there could be concerns either that the A-level syllabus might not be adequate preparation for the rapidly evolving and ever more specialised geoscience curriculum at university, or that out-of-date thinking among A-level teachers may end up instilling misconceptions that are hard to shift later on.

Whatever the issue, the relegation of Geology A Level to simply being ‘useful’ for pursuing a career in geoscience means that students and parents are likely to be confused as whether or not it is worthwhile selecting at all. And yet, currently, it is that A-level that is underpinning our rising Geology numbers. According to Chris King at Keele University’s Earth Science Education Unit (pers comm), the latest UCAS figures show that last year 43% of applicants to UK geology courses had A-level geology and 30% of applicants to all UK geoscience-related courses. Any appreciable switch away from Advanced Geology in secondary schools is likely to have an immediate knock-on effect on university numbers.

One of the reasons to think that a loss of confidence in A Level Geology will be transmitted into university admissions is that, as geoscience retreats into the shadows of our school curricula, we will rely increasingly on other subjects to turn on students to Geology. Indeed, a disparate Earth science content is already scattered across the other sciences and Geography. But the latest National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 (GCSE) Science hardly inspires confidence that it will be of much service to Geology (5). According to that document - released on the 7th February 2013 - the explicit Earth Science is as follows:
  • carbon dioxide and methane as greenhouse gases
  • carbon capture and storage
  • common pollutants and their sources
  • the Earth’s water resources
  • calcium carbonate as a raw material for the construction industry

Geological flotsam and jetsam wash up elsewhere in the new Science GSCE - such as the evidence for evolution from fossils in Biology and sound waves in rocks in Physics - but, by and large, GCSE Science is a geology-free zone. No plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes; for that, sign up to Geography. The big picture story of our planet’s past and how it works today is entirely missing. Instead, it is with a modest smattering of Geology amongst neighbouring disciplines that we will increasingly rely on sell the glorious wonders of brand Geoscience. In a blog written a couple of years ago, Keele University geologist Ian Stimpson highlighted the nub of the problem with this reliance on teachers in other fields:

“The few bits of geology that are still taught in English schools are, in the main, now taught by chemistry teachers. I don’t want to disparage chemistry teachers but in general they don’t have the background knowledge in geology to allow them the confidence to teach the subject well. If the situations were reversed, and I had to teach chemistry, I’d give it my best shot but without that foundation in the subject I would struggle, and I certainly could not teach it with the enthusiasm that comes from really knowing one’s subject.” (5)

According to Stimpson, the UK Geology Teacher is an endangered species. The irony is that, adept at cajoling countless students into the damp rigours of fieldwork or the intimate revelations of rocks, Geology teachers would seem to have been an integral part of Geology's resurgence in recent years.  To expect Chemistry, Physics, and Biology teachers to launch repeated waves of students into university Geology departments is short-sighted and naive. Our best advert for our subject, is ourselves. 


I'm grateful to Joanne Watkins at ESWA for introducing me to the remarkable turnaround in WA Earth Science fortunes during a recent visit to Oz, and for supplying the graphs above. Chris King kindly supplied the UK schools data. Email discussions with Peter Harrison, Keith Turner and others on the Scottish Geodiversity Forum helped crystallise thoughts with regard to the 'Scottish scene'.


(1) Earth Science in Western Australia

(2) Earth Science Western Australia http://www.earthsciencewa.com.au/

(3)           Robinson, R., Harrison, P. & Banks, J.  Higher Geology and Earth Science Provision in Scotland. Post November 23rd 2012 Meeting paper.
(3)           Informed Choices: A Russell Group guide to making informed choices on post-16 education. http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/media/informed-choices/InformedChoices-latest.pdf).
(4) Department of Education. Draft National Curriculum programmes of study for KS4 English, maths and science. https://www.education.gov.uk/a00220610/draft-pos-ks4-english-maths-science

(5) Geology Teachers in the UK - an endangered species. 01 June 2010. http://hypocentral.com/blog/2010/06/01/geology-teachers-in-england-an-endangered-species/