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Dr Emma Liu

Dr Emma Liu

Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow



Research Interests

Volcanic eruptions release vast quantities of ash, gas, and aerosols into the atmosphere. These emissions pose significant societal, environmental and climatic hazards that operate over a range of timescales from days to decades. My research focuses on constraining the magmatic processes that govern the magnitude and impact of volcanic emissions: my previous PhD work investigated how volcanic ash is formed during eruptions, whilst my current fellowship research explores the geochemical controls on the outgassing of sulfur and metals from volcanoes, and the implications for the global sulfur cycle.

Research interests:

  • Volatile degassing in basaltic magmas
  • Sulfur and trace metal budgets of mafic eruptions
  • Magma fragmentation and volcanic ash generation
  • In-plume gas measurements using UAVs
  • Magma-water interaction
  • Remobilisation of volcanic ash deposits


Leverhulme Research Fellowship: Sulfur is a key volatile constituent of magmas and yet the global volcanic sulfur budget is still relative poorly constrained, at least in part due to uncertainty in the role of co-existing sulfide phases in controlling the availability of sulfur and ‘sulfur-loving’ (chalcophile) metals during magma ascent. By integrating petrological and geochemical data from erupted tephra with atmospheric measurements of SO2 and metal aerosol in volcanic plumes, I investigate the conditions under which sulfide phases scavenge and release sulfur and chalcophile metals in mafic volcanic systems, and the timescales over which this may occur.


In-situ volcanic gas measurements using drones: A key practical aspect of my on-going work is the development and field application of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for in-situ volcanic gas and aerosol measurements within previously inaccessible volcanic plumes. I am currently leading an international project to develop novel drone-based techniques to advance volcanic gas studies and deep carbon science. The research forms part of the Deep Carbon Observatory: a decade-long programme investigating the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon on Earth.

The collaborative project, 'Aerial Observations of Volcanic Gas Emissions', brings together more than twenty researchers from seven different countries. Papua New Guinea has been selected as the research target, as it is home to several highly active volcanoes known from satellite observations to be strong gas emitters, but that are entirely inaccessible for ground-based measurements. Ultimately, the project will refine our global estimate of volcanic carbon outgassing, and will provide critical insight into volatile recycling through the Papua New Guinea subduction zone. An important legacy is to build the capacity for volcano monitoring, with drone equipment and training allowing local scientists to continue these pioneering measurements into the future, through an additional Global Challenges Impact Acceleration Award.

Please see our project webpage for updates:

You can follow my field expeditions on Twitter @EmmaLiu31 and #DCOdronesPNG



Petrology ; Volcanology ; Geochemistry


  • Volcanology
  • Volatile geochemical cycling
  • Igneous petrology
  • Icelandic Magmatism

Key Publications

Liu, E.J., Wood, K., Mason, E., Edmonds, M., Aiuppa, A., Giudice, G., Bitetto, M., Francofonte, V., Richardson, T., Burrow, S., Watson, I.M., Pering, T., Wilkes, T.C, McGonigle, A.J.S., Velasquez, G., Melgarejo, C., Bucarey, C., (in press). ‘Dynamics of outgassing and plume transport revealed by proximal Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) measurements at Volcán Villarrica, Chile’. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, accepted 24 December 2018.
Edmonds, M., Mather, T.A. and Liu, E.J., (2018). ‘A distinct metal fingerprint in arc volcanic emissions. Nature Geoscience’, 11, 790–794. doi:
Antoniades, D, Giralt S, Geyer A, Álvarez-Valero, AM, Pla S, Granados, I, Liu, E.J., Toro, M and Oliva, M, (2018). 'Timing and environmental effects of the Deception Island caldera collapse'. Scientific Reports 8, 17279. doi:
Liu, E.J., Cashman, K.V., Rust, A.C. and Edmonds, M., 2018. Insights into the dynamics of mafic magmatic-hydromagmatic eruptions from volatile degassing behaviour: The Hverfjall Fires, Iceland. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 358, 228-240. doi:

Liu, E.J., Cashman, K.V., Rust, A.C. and Höskuldsson, A. (2017). 'Contrasting mechanisms of magma fragmentation during coeval magmatic and hydromagmatic activity: the Hverfjall Fires fissure eruption, Iceland'. Bulletin of Volcanology, 79(10), 68. doi:10.1007/s00445-017-1150-8

Oliva, M., Antoniades, D., Giralt, S., Granados, I., Pla-Rabes, S., Toro, M., Liu, E.J., Sanjurjo, J., & Viera, G., (2016). 'The Holocene deglaciation of the Byers Peninsula (Livingston Island, Antarctica) based on the
dating of lake sedimentary records'. Geomorphology, 261, 89-102.

Liu, E.J., Oliva, M., Antoniades, D., Giralt, S., Granados, I., Pla-Rabes, S., Toro, M., & Geyer, A., (2016). 'Expanding the tephrostratigraphical framework for the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica, by combining compositional and textural tephra characterisation'. Sedimentary Geology, 340, 49-61.

Liu, E. J., Cashman, K.V., & Rust, A.C. (2015). 'Optimising shape analysis to quantify volcanic ash morphology'. GeoResJ, 8, 14-30.

Liu, E. J., Cashman, K.V., Rust, A.C., & Gislason, S. R. (2015). 'The role of bubbles in generating fine ash during hydromagmatic eruptions'. Geology, 43(3), 239-242.

Liu, E.J., Cashman, K.V., Beckett, F., Witham, C., Hort, H., Leadbetter S., & Gudmundsson, S. (2014). 'Ash mists and brown snow: remobilisation of volcanic ash from recent Icelandic eruptions', Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres., 119 (15), 9463-9480. doi: 10.1002/2014JD021598

Lamb, O. D., Varley, N. R., Mather, T. A., Pyle, D. M., Smith, P. J., & Liu, E.J. (2014). 'Multiple timescales of cyclical behaviour observed at two dome-forming eruptions', Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 284, 106-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jvolgeores.2014.07.013

Nicholson, E. J., Mather, T. A., Pyle, D. M., Odbert, H. M., & Christopher, T. (2013). 'Cyclical patterns in volcanic degassing revealed by SO2 flux timeseries analysis: An application to Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat', Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 375, 209-221. doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.05.032

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