MRes in Science of Natural Hazards

Please note that this programme will not be running in 2013/14 - it has been replaced by MSc Volcanology (further details can be found here: MSc Volcanology)


Geological, hydrological and meteorological events such as volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and snow avalanches cause loss of life and economic damage to communities worldwide every year. To predict, manage and communicate the hazards associated with such geophysical events, a clear understanding of their physical nature is required. Natural hazard prediction and mitigation is a fast-growing and competitive area of research that crosses the boundaries between traditional subject areas.

The MRes in Science of Natural Hazards involves research groups from four top-ranking departments at the University of Bristol (Earth Sciences, Mathematics, Civil Engineering and Geography). It provides students with an understanding of major hazard types, and with generic skills for risk analysis, as well as allowing students to develop as individual researchers. The programme is aimed at those who wish to proceed to higher-level academic research, and/or those interested in work with governmental and non-governmental organisations related to aid and development.

Programme structure

The programme is a one year full-time (two years part-time) course of study, taught through lectures and supervised independent research.

Taught units

The taught part of the MRes programme comprises a third of the overall course assessment, and totals 60 credits points (cp).  Two core (mandatory) units, each worth 10 cp, are taken during the autumn term:

A further 40 cp of optional units are taken from this list:

Taught units will be assessed by a combination of coursework and examination.

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Research project

The final part of the course is a two-phase research project:

  • Phase 1: Jan - March (60 cp)
    Supported research activity and skills development.
  • Phase 2: March - September (60 cp)
    The research project, involving self-directed, original, research.

Click for a list of titles of some past student projects.

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Field trip

One of the optional units - Natural Hazards in Central America - involves a field trip to Guatemala and accounts for 20 credit points. The trip runs in January for just over two weeks, although there is opportunity for students to stay in Central America after the trip ends - either to undertake research projects or simply for travel experience.

The aim of the field trip is to assess the hazards and risks of living with natural hazards in a developing country. The geological hazards are understood in the context of Guatemala’s rich social and political history. The field trip provides an amazing insight into the effects of living with natural hazards but also a great social opportunity to get to know others on the course in such incredible surroundings.

Starting from Guatemala City, as a base for study of nearby Volcan Pacaya, we begin by measuring SO2 emissions from this active volcano and examining the lava flows. We also undertake a truly memorable night-time hike to the summit of the volcano, to observe the spectacular on-going Strombolian activity. We then move on to Antigua, Guatemala's former capital, to visit Volcan Fuego, one of Central America's most active volcanoes. Here, we have the opportunity to study the hazards associated with earthquakes and debris flows (lahars) before continuing our journey up to the the Lake Atitlan caldera in the Guatemala Volcanic Highlands. At Lake Atitlan, we look at the formation of the caldera during the 84 ka eruption, as well as visiting Panabaj and El Porvenir, to better understand landslides as a natural hazard. The rest of the trip is spent at the Santiaguito Observatory near Xela. Volcan Santiaguito erupts explosively every 30 minutes to one hour, and here we will have the opportunity to explore the utility of UV-imaging. We also climb Santiaguito's parent volcano, Santa Maria, at night - in order to be on the summit to make our observations before the afternoon clouds develop. The final few days of the trip are spent looking at lahars downstream of Santiaguito along the Rio Nima valley.

Assessment is based on a final report, a field notebook and field practicals. Students work closely with INSIVUMEH, the Guatemalan National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology and CONRED, the Guatemalan National Organisation for the Reduction of Disasters.

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Your questions

What is meant by 'natural hazards'?

Natural hazards cover geological, hydrological and meteorological events such as volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and snow avalanches. The course covers the physical mechanisms behind the hazards, the concept of risk, statistical analysis of uncertainty and mitigation strategies.

How is the course assessed?

The taught part of the course comprises of a third of the overall course assessment, from a mixture of coursework and exams. The research project comprises two thirds of the overall course assessment.

What kind of budget should I allow for the year?

An estimate of living costs in Bristol can be found on the website of the Student Funding Office

What are the strengths of the department?

Whilst the School of Earth Sciences is strong as a whole there is a particular focus on volcanology. Looking at the relevant research groups gives a good indication of the main areas of interest.

What kind of career could the course lead to?

Alumni of this programme have gone on to careers in academic research and with government and non government organisations working with aid, development and natural hazard management.

How does being a postgraduate differ from being an undergraduate?

Postgraduates should expect an increased amount of independent study as well as a more informal rapport with PhD students and lecturers.  Our postgrad students are provided with their own computer workspace, desk and drawers in a room specifically for masters students.

Volcanic activity

How to apply

Our postgraduate prospectus lists entry requirements and full details on how to apply.

Applications must be made through the online system, but you are welcome to make enquiries before you apply formally.

Apply online

Postgraduate students

Further information

If you have specific questions, please contact the programme director Dr Matt Watson.
Tel: +44 (0)117 331 5133