Alastair Hodgetts

University of Birmingham


Volcanic hazards in the Mexico City region: probing a 500,000 year record of diverse eruptions from a lacustrine succession


Dr Sebastian Watt (University of Birmingham), Dr Victoria Smith (University of Oxford), Professor Mike Branney (University of Leicester), Dr Alan Hastie (University of Birmingham)

PhD Summary

Mexico City is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Located within the volcanic axis of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB), the city, and its residents, are exposed to a variety of volcanic hazards from the surrounding arc volcanoes. Current knowledge of volcanism in the region is limited to the recent geological past as field exposure is relatively poor. However, a new sediment core drilled at Lake Chalco, as part of the Mexidrill project of the ICDP, has provided a unique and much more extensive record of tephra deposits in the region. The aim of my PhD is to use the core stratigraphy, in conjunction with fieldwork and dating techniques, to determine how the style, frequency and impact of volcanic hazards has varied in the region over the past 500,000 years. This will significantly build on our understanding of the volcanology of the region and the types of eruptions that have occurred in the past, and could potentially again in the future. This data can be used to build on hazard assessment for the city and elsewhere.

What inspires you

I first became interested in wildlife and an avid birdwatcher from a young age. I have always loved being outdoors, visiting beautiful places in the natural world and learning more about our planet, something which studying geology and volcanology provides and fulfils.

Previous activity

I began my geological studies at the University of Leicester by undertaking a BSc in Geology. During my degree, my fascination with volcanoes grew and I quickly developed a strong passion for fieldwork. This was reflected by my independent field mapping project, which I undertook in the enigmatic Ord Window, Isle of Skye. After graduating, I completed an internship with the British Geological Survey’s volcanology team where I worked on a range of projects to better understand the physical parameters that initiate and control eruptions, through to risk and disaster management. I followed this by reading for an MSc in Volcanology and Geological Hazards at Lancaster University where I further developed my knowledge and skills in theoretical, field and laboratory volcanology. While at Lancaster, I obtained a research grant from the Elspeth Matthews Fund of the Geological Society of London which allowed me to travel and complete geological fieldwork at Þórólfsfell, a mafic tuya volcano in South Iceland, constructed on the southern flank of Tindfjallajökull stratovolcano. This was the first study of the volcano and presented the first lithofacies descriptions and interpretations with a wider aim to better understand and provide an alternative model for the formation of subglacial volcanoes.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I have always wanted to advance our understanding within volcanology and enhance our knowledge of the behaviour of volcanic systems to better improve the lives of those most vulnerable in active volcanic environments. Doctoral research provides me with the skills and independent decision-making ability to become a leading researcher within my field, as well as becoming a well-rounded scientist. In addition, Doctoral Research is essential to work as a volcanologist with most employers.

Why did you choose CENTA?

I first of all chose a CENTA studentship because of the nature of the project, however CENTA is also very appealing because it has a vision to provide their Doctoral Researchers with specialist and transferable skills to become the future leaders in their fields of study. This is achieved through carefully designed training courses and support for a placement during the PhD.

Future plans

Being a NERC CENTA student provides me with the best training and opportunities throughout my PhD. My future plans are to apply my research and work as a volcanologist, further researching important questions within volcanology.