PhD Position Available in Fault Geomorphology and Seismic Hazard of Major Fault Zones

Lead Supervisor: Dr John Elliott (Leeds)
Co-supervised by: Dr. Laura Gregory (Leeds), Dr Ekbal Hussain (BGS) & Prof. Andy Hooper (Leeds)

Contact email:

Application: Apply through the University of Leeds portal here
17th June.

Funding: The PhD stipend is funded for four years and is open to UK and EU applicants only (the source of funding is from the Royal Society).

This exciting project aims to improve our understanding of relative crustal faulting activity and better assess earthquake hazard on a number of major fault zones by combining high resolution satellite optical imagery and DEMs with deterministic seismic hazard and risk models.

This project will use novel space-based instruments (Elliott et al, 2016) and develop quantitative methodologies to assess active tectonic geomorphology. Determining the activity of faults is especially important near rapidly growing cities in poorer countries with less resilient infrastructure. The aim is to identify the relative activity of fault segments in and around earthquake-prone cities. Initially the project will focus on the city of Santiago, Chile where a recently identified fault (Armijo et al., 2010) runs along the edge of the city. Further earthquake prone cities will also be targeted for high resolution imagery and DEM analysis by creating high-resolution 3D landscape models from the satellite optical imagery. This will be used to quantify the fault geomorphology to better constrain deterministic seismic hazard models using the OpenQuake seismic hazard and risk engine from the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) foundation (Silva et al., 2014).


In this project, the student will apply the latest techniques in measuring active tectonics, faulting and seismic hazard. The project will have the following specific objectives:

1. The student will use very-high resolution stereo satellite optical imagery over Santiago Chile to extract topographic data across the active San Ramon fault and parts of the city. They will compare the DEM quality and usefulness for tectonic geomorphology of a hierarchical suite of topographic data (WV3, Pleiades, SPOT, PRISM, Vivid-i, TanDEM-X, AW3D, GDEM, SRTM).
2. They will apply algorithms to map out and identify the fault scarp using gradient, curvature, aspect and diffusivity metrics. This quality of the results of fault identification will be compared to the results that can be derived from pre-existing LiDAR open datasets elsewhere (such as in California).
3. The student will incorporate the fault location and segmentation into hazard calculations using the OpenQuake seismic hazard and risk engine from the Global Earthquake Model (GEM)
4. The student will apply these techniques to other active fault zones that threaten large population centres around the globe where high resolution optical imagery exists of can be tasked to apply.

The balance between these components will vary depending on the specific interests of the student.


The student will work under the supervision of Dr. John Elliott, within the Tectonics group of the Institute of Geophysics & Tectonics in the School of Earth & Environment at Leeds. The project will be co-supervised by Dr Laura Gregory and Prof. Andy Hooper (also in IGT, SEE) and by Dr Ekbal Hussain at the BGS (Keyworth). The PhD student will also have the opportunity to collaborate with overseas partners on the use of algorithms (Hilley et al., 2010) to extract quantitative information of fault scarps (Prof Ramon Arrowsmith, Arizona State University, USA) and on the implementation of the GEM foundation OpenQuake (Silva et al., 2014) seismic hazard and risk model engine (Dr Vitor Silva, GEM, Italy).

The Institute of Geophysics & Tectonics also hosts the Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics (COMET) which provides a large group of researchers engaged in active tectonics research with whom the student can interact. The successful PhD student will have access to a broad spectrum of training workshops put on by the Faculty that include an extensive range from scientific computing through to managing your degree, to preparing for your viva ( The student will also have the opportunity to engage with a wider range of scientists within COMET at a number of other UK institutions who have a broad interest in problems of active tectonics and earthquakes.

Student profile

The student should have a strong interest in remote sensing, active tectonics problems, and a strong background in a quantitative science (earth sciences, geophysics, geology, physics, natural sciences). Ability to work within a G.I.S framework and experience of large volume datasets (high resolution imagery) or massive point clouds would be useful.


  • Armijo, R., Rauld, R., Thiele, R., Vargas, G., Campos, J., Lacassin, R. & Kausel, E. (2010). The West Andean thrust, the San Ramon fault, and the seismic hazard for Santiago, Chile. Tectonics, 29(2).
  • Elliott, J. R., R. J. Walters & T. J. Wright (2016). The role of space-based observation in understanding and responding to active tectonics and earthquakes, Nature Communications, 7, doi:10.1038/ncomms13844.
  • Hilley, G.E., DeLong, S., Prentice, C., Blisniuk, K. and Arrowsmith, J.R. (2010). Morphologic dating of fault scarps using airborne laser swath mapping (ALSM) data. Geophysical Research Letters, 37(4).
  • Hussain, E., Elliott J. R., Silva, V., Vilar-Vega, M. (in prep). Contrasting seismic risk for Santiago, Chile, from near-field and distant earthquake sources, Natural Hazards & Earth Systems Sciences, please make contact for a copy of the manuscript.
  • Silva, V., Crowley, H., Pagani, M., Monelli, D., and Pinho, R. (2014). Development of the OpenQuake engine, the Global Earthquake Model’s open-source software for seismic risk assessment, Natural Hazards, 72, 1409–1427.
  • Zhou, Y., B. Parsons, J. R. Elliott, I. Barisin & R. T. Walker (2015). Assessing the ability of Pleiades stereo imagery to determine height changes in earthquakes: a case study for the El Mayor-Cucapah epicentral area, Journal of Geophysical Research, 120, 8793-8808, doi:10.1002/2015JB012358.

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