MSc Volcanology


Volcanoes are amongst the most awe inspiring of natural phenomena, whose eruptions and their associated hazards both inspire and cause loss of life and economic damage to communities worldwide on a regular basis.

In order to predict, manage and communicate the hazards associated with such activity more effectively, a clear understanding of their physical nature is required.

Due to increasing numbers of the global population being at risk, volcano hazard prediction and mitigation is a fast-growing and competitive area of research that crosses the boundaries between traditional subject areas.

The MSc in Volcanology is taught by members of the world-leading volcanology research group within our top-ranking School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.

It provides students with an understanding of major volcanic processes and 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 risk management, 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 MSc programme totals 120 credits points (cp) and includes research training through supported research activity and skills development.

Two core (mandatory) units, worth 30 cp, are taken during the Autumn term:

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

The majority of taught units will be assessed by a combination of coursework and examination (in January).

You will undertake supported research activity and skills development through two units (January-April, 50 cp):

Research project

The final part of the course is the research project (April-September, 60 cp):

The research project involves self-directed, original, research.

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

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 February 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 volcanic hazards and risks of living in the shadow of active volcanismin a less developed country. These 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 volcanichazards 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 tectonic earthquakes and volcanogenic 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 San Pedro, 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 about once every 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.

Please note that the cost of travel for this field trip is not included in the course fees.

Students who are unable to undertake the field trip will be offered an alternative unit, in which they will be challenged to research the socio-economic context of their work as a field-based unit is designed to do in situ. Natural Hazards in Central America (without fieldwork) (20 cp).

Your questions

What is meant by 'volcanology'?

Volcanology is the study of the behaviour of volcanoes and their associated hazards including pyroclastic flows, lava flows, ashfall and mudslides.. The course covers the theory underpinning our understanding of physical mechanisms behind both behaviour and hazards, monitoring and modelling volcanic processes, the concept of risk, statistical analysis of uncertainty and mitigation strategies.

How is the course assessed?

The taught part of the course comprises two-thirds of the overall course assessment, from a mixture of coursework and exams. The research project (thesis) comprises the final third 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 Fees and funding website.

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.


The Volcanology Research Group at the University of Bristol uses a combination of field studies, geophysics, remote sensing, analogue experiments and numerical models to understand the physical processes that control volcanic eruptions and to develop methods of hazard assessment.

Bristol Volcanology is a leading partner in the Global Volcano Model network of 28 institutions around the World dedicated to collating and analysing information on volcanoes, their hazards and the risks they pose.

More about the group

How to apply

Our postgraduate study page 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.


If you have specific questions, please contact the programme director Professor Kathy Cashman.
Tel: +44 (0)117 331 5133