InSAR/Seismological Investigation Studentship Programme

InSAR/Seismological Investigation Studentship Programme

University of Liverpool
In 2012, the Natural Environment Research Council announced that it wished to concentrate research student training in larger cohorts, and invited bids for Doctoral Training Partnerships to provide this training. The Universities of Manchester and Liverpool, together with the National Oceanographic Centre, submitted a successful bid for a DTP in April 2013, which we have now launched as Understanding the Earth, Atmosphere and Ocean.

Students will be hosted at one of the three lead partners, and registered for a PhD at the University of Manchester or Liverpool. Their research projects may be exclusively based at one of the partners, or involve collaboration between them – but the training programme will be provided jointly. Our aim is to expose students to the breadth of research in the environmental sciences, while at the same time developing them as cutting-edge scientists in their chosen field.

The studentships are for 3.5 years with a possible extension to 4 years in exceptional circumstances.

Project Name: InSAR/seismological investigation of fracking sites in the UK and US


Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a technique to extract oil and gas from shale rock by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock to fracture it. Waste water may be disposed of by injecting it underground in disposal wells, or else it is stored in pools open to the atmosphere. Although energy reserves contained within shale rock are significant, the approach is highly controversial, and many facets of society, including environmentalists and local residents, are critical of this attempt to meet energy needs. Possible risks and hazards associated with fracking are: (i) contamination of groundwater with toxic/radioactive chemicals from injection of water beneath the water table; (ii) depletion of water resources – particularly of concern in places such as California; (iii) noise pollution and impact to the environment as trucks transport material/water to and from sites; (iv) injection of water as the cause of earthquakes. Local residents in several fracking areas across the US have complained of health issues and impacts to livestock/wildlife, and reports of induced seismicity have been reported near sites in both the UK and the US.

Project Summary :

In order to monitor anthropogenic and natural activity at and near fracking sites, including waste water injection wells, the Liverpool Earth Observatory (LEO) is engaging in a dual investigation of (i) local seismicity, and (ii) surface ground motion at selected sites in the UK and the US.

The student will use SAR data from the TerraSAR-X and new Sentinel satellites to produce multiple interferometric maps of surface deformation, and to build up InSAR time series of ground deformation.These can be used as an indicator of how fracking activities are affecting the local environment, and how the shallow crust is responding. The seismic data from the local network will be used to locate earthquakes, and these locations will then be compared to the surface motion time series to test whether a correlation exists between seismicity and ground deformation. Local geological and structural maps will be used to aid integration and interpretation of the geodetic and seismic results. Besides seismic data analysis, the student will be involved in maintenance of the LEO northwest seismic network. Visits to field sites will be required to check on/service the instruments.

Ideal candidates for this project will have a strong quantitative background, with a degree in Earth Sciences, Geophysics, Physics or Maths. The student will receive training in InSAR processing and time series analysis, and seismological data processing to obtain earthquake locations and, where possible, focal mechanisms. Graduate training in more generalized research skills such as presenting research and thesis writing will be provided through the NERC DTP. The student will be a member of the Liverpool Earth Observatory, which actively observes, monitors and studies tectonic phenomena around the world, including on our own doorstep. In addition, the student will be affiliated with COMET+, and will present at COMET+ student meetings within the UK. This will be a valuable opportunity to practice presenting research and to meet other students with similar interests. In the third year of the project, the student would attend the annual AGU conference in San Francisco to present their research.

Supervisors: Isabelle Ryder (SOES), Andreas Rietbrock (SOES).


Read more at:

Read more about Manchester & Liverpool Doctoral Training Programme 


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