Collaborative Research: East African Rift Tephra Database [EARThD]: a compilation documenting and analyzing explosive volcanism in East Africa

Project: Research project

Project Details


The East African Rift Valley is home to hundreds of volcanoes that have produced large explosive eruptions in their past, sending volcanic ash into the atmosphere and dispersing it over large distances. This volcanic ash (also called tephra) is deposited on land or in water bodies, and may become preserved in the geological record. Studies of tephra are important for a wide range of purposes including learning about the eruptive history of a volcano to anticipate potential future behavior, and correlating and dating rock layers for paleoanthropology and paleoclimatology studies. Traditionally, much of this work has been carried out by separate groups of researchers from these various disciplines, and a significant amount of data is then published in specialized literature, and hard to discover. A centralized database of tephra occurrence in East Africa would help overcome this barrier and encourage the use of existing valuable datasets, but also answer fundamental questions about the evolution of volcanism in East Africa through time. This project will address this need by building the East African Rift Tephra Database (EARThD), a comprehensive database that will integrate, standardize, and investigate geochemical and age tephra datasets from the East African Rift focusing on the record from the past 5 million years.

The EARThD project will utilize the existing NSF-supported community-based data facility, Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance (IEDA), to store, curate, and provide access to geochemical data and metadata through IEDA's EarthChem library. Tephra samples from published articles will be assigned an International Sample Geo Number (IGSN) and associated datasets and metadata will be entered and formatted using standardized IEDA templates. The development of EARThD will fulfill the currently non-existent but crucial data integration and standardization effort needed to support the growing East African Rift tephra record and the increasingly complex and interdisciplinary research questions being studied. It will benefit a broad scientific community by encouraging and facilitating the cross-disciplinary use of tephra geochemical data and involve undergraduate student researchers. Results of this project will provide a clearer understanding of the temporal variations of explosive volcanism along the East African Rift, including the frequency and magnitude of past eruptions and long-term geochemical variations in response to continental rifting.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date5/1/184/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $135,201.00


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