Earth and Planetary Science


Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - 11:00 to 12:00


Lecture Theatre, Grant Institute

Organised by : 

Tetsuya Komabayashi

Research Image: 

Scientists are increasingly recognizing the importance of extreme events in shaping the landscape. This is particularly true for river erosion which happens during short-lived events. During floods, the sediment particles lying on the bed of rivers are put in motion: through successive impacts, they erode the exposed bedrock. Research at the School of GeoSciences is aiming at investigating the most extremes of these events.

Hazard research in the Land Surface Dynamics group collaborates with other colleagues in Edinburgh who are modelling storm event frequency (Hegerl) and evolution of the Indian monsoon (Bollasina), and other colleagues using a range of techniques such as cosmogenic nuclides for recording long term sediment flux rates (Hein).

Extreme Floods in mountain ranges

The geomorphic record of extreme flood events enables accurate reconstructions of river discharge and even precipitation amounts which usually depend on low resolution meteorological satellite data.  This increased resolution enables improved understanding of run-off processes and the links to landslide and debris flow activity on hillslopes. Current projects in Himalaya in collaboration with Indian colleagues.

Extreme floods generated by glacial melt

The most devastating floods on earth are those associated with release of glacial meltwater, either from the front of mountain glaciers (Glacial Outburst Floods – GLOFS) or from beneath ice sheets, particularly in volcanic parts of the world such as Iceland which generate Jokulhaups. Current projects in Iceland and Himalaya.

Erosion during extreme flood events dominates Holocene canyon evolution in northeast Iceland
ERC Baynes, M Attal, S Niedermann, LA Kirstein, AJ Dugmore, M Naylor
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (2015)

Catastrophic impact of extreme flood events on the morphology and evolution of the lower Jökulsá á Fjöllum (northeast Iceland) during the Holocene
ERC Baynes, M Attal, AJ Dugmore, LA Kirstein, KA Whaler
Geomorphology 250, 422-436 (2015)

Tectonics from topography

The increased availability of high resolution digital topography in the last decade is enabling the development of new analytical tools for interpreting the landscape for fault activity on timescales beyond the historical. Hence faults are being identified as having been active on the 103-105 yr timescale that are inactive historically with important implications for seismic hazard. This technique has been applied in Italy, Turkey and the Himalaya.

InSAR records surface change

Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) has traditionally been applied to understanding ground motions following earthquakes. New technical advances are now enabling InSAR to record the retreat of glaciers, the deflation of glaciers following the catastrophic release of meltwater, and changes in surface form following floods, landslides and debris flows. Current applications are recording the changing form of Himalayan glaciers and supporting field analysis of the impacts of extreme floods in mountain ranges.


This toolbox is developed as a framework for implementing the latest developments in topographic analysis, for developing new topographic analysis techniques, for numerical modelling of landscapes, to improve the speed and performance of topographic analysis versus other tools (e.g., commercial GIS software), and to enable reproducible topographic analysis in the research context.

Salt marsh stability in the face of rising sea level [In a Nutshell]

Field Projects

Himalayan Storms (2010) [In a Nutshell] Dan Hobley, Hugh Sinclair and Simon Mudd traced reconstructed a convective storm event in the Indian Himalaya by mapping debris flows and peak flow geometry. These can give insight into the nature of convective storms.

Icelandic Megafloods [YouTube]: Extreme flood events occur regularly in Iceland as a result of volcanic activity under ice caps. The understanding developed from Iceland of the impacts of extreme flooding can then be applied to other locations where similar extreme events are thought to have occurred, such as the North-West USA, the Himalayas and Mars.

Volcano Seismology: Bell

Mapping evolving patterns of earthquakes around volcanoes can give insight into the inner workings of a volcano and identify risk factors regarding the likelihood and style of a potential eruption.

Induced Seismicity: Main and Naylor

Earthquakes that occur because of human activities are referred to as either induced or triggered. It is important that we understand the controls on this seismicity becuase they affect the ...

Operational Forecasting

A great way to test a hypothesis is to make a blind forecast and see what happens. This allows us to remove subconscious biases that plague retrospective tests, and also provides a practical tool for decision making in a crisis.  We are developing online tools for collecting and analysing data in real time.

Uncertainty for Long Term Hazard: Main and Naylor


Spatio-temporal Evolution of Seismicity: Naylor

Cross-correlation Waveform Analysis: Bell

The analysis am comparison of seismic waveform data is fundamental to seismology.

Aftershock Forecasting: McCloskey

Whilst the fundamental physical processes that control earthquake nucleation and triggering are reasonably well understood - it is difficult to incorporate this information into prospective forecasts because of heterogeneity within the crust that we are unable to measure directly. Aftershock Forecasting is an area where we seek to improve upon purely statistical forecasts by incorporating information about, for example, the stress change induced by large earthquakes. 

Earthquake Physics



Virtual Earthquake and seismology Research Community in Europe, VERCE: Prof Malcolm Atkinson (Informatics)

Earthquake and seismology research addresses fundamental problems in understanding the Earth’s internal wave sources and properties, thereby aiding society in the management of natural hazards, energy resources, environmental changes, and national security. VERCE is supporting this effort by developing a data-intensive e-science environment to enable innovative data analysis and data modelling methods that fully exploit the increasing wealth of open data generated by the observational and monitoring systems of the global seismology community.

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Physical Volcanology

Systematic measurements of both the large scale features of the deposits of volcanic eruptions and small scale features of their components help us reconstruct past eruptions and to understand volcanic processes

Volcanic Hazard Mapping

The impacts of volcanic eruptions can be localised (in the case of lava flows and lahars) or dispersed (in the case of pyroclastic density currents and tephra fall).  We use field evidence combined with computer models of volcanic processes to identify the areas most at risk.

Volcanic Seismicity:

Mapping evolving patterns of earthquakes around volcanos can give insight into the inner workings of a volcano and identify risk factors regarding the likelihood and style of a potential eruption.


Volcanic ash layers, identified by their chemical fingerprints, are a powerful tool for dating events and measuring the rates of environmental changes.

Magmatic Processes:

The storage, transport and mixing history of magma is recorded in the composition of its crystals.  The tools of igneous petrology are used to interrogate the crystals and extract the story.


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Tue, 24/03/2015

Steve Brusatte and colleagues discover new species in Portugal

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Tue, 14/04/2015

The goal of this project is to identify the thermodynamic state of the Earth's central core.

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Fri, 26/06/2015

Linking the development of enhanced oil recovery in the North Sea to low-carbon electricity can bring significant benefits to the wider UK economy.

Geobiology and Geochemistry

This Group explores how life has interacted with Earth over long time scales. We document how life has evolved, how environmental change created opportunities and constraints for diversification, and how life has controlled the evolution of biogeochemical cycles. Our research straddles the disciplines of geology, palaeontology, evolutionary biology, ecology, microbiology, oceanography, and geochemistry.

Edinburgh GeoHazards

​​The Geohazards and Risk group brings together expertise in Natural Hazards from across the University of Edinburgh in conjunction with partners such as the British Geological Survey. Our aim is to provide a cross-disciplinary forum to forge new research collaborations and to facilitate end-user engagement.

For general enquiries, please contact the group's convenor, Dr Mark Naylor.

Published on: 

Wed, 20/04/2016

Fresh discoveries about common minerals are helping scientists better understand the nature of Earth's magnetic fields....


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