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Modelling landslide preconditioning in Nelson, New Zealand (JOHNSONUENV19ARIES)

Project Description

Many homes in New Zealand are built on steep hillslopes at risk from landslides. This problem is compounded by frequent earthquakes and intense rainfall that cause frequent and widespread landsliding. Large uncertainties remain in landslide hazard models particularly in the face of environmental forces such as shaking from earthquakes and increased climate variability as well as increased pressure from urban development. Further research is needed on how these changes alter the stability of hillslopes in order to improve landslide hazard models. For example, it is known that earthquakes not only trigger landslides but enhance the probability of slope failure in future earthquakes, but the mechanical details of this phenomenon are unknown.

This project will address three fundamental questions related to landslides in the Nelson region:
* How do the geotechnical properties of slopes influence the trigger of landslides?
* How do the soil and rock properties of slopes change as environmental conditions change?
* How do earthquakes, rainfall and drought pre-condition slopes to fail?

The student will investigate these questions through the use of:
* Historical data,
* A month field investigation in New Zealand with GNS Science, and
* Numerical models.

Results from these components will define relationships between parameters that can be used to enable evolving landslide hazard maps.
The project will be conducted primarily in the University of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences, where the background and existing knowledge to support this project are excellent. Training will be given where necessary geoscientific methods, general computing skills and specific software. The other institution involved in this project is GNS Science, where Dr Carey leads the landslide reactivation research theme.

Person Specification Applicants must hold, or expect to receive, a first or upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant geoscience or physical sciences discipline.

Start Date: October 2019
Mode of Study: Full-time or Part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Minimum entry requirement: UK 2:1

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. Undertaking a PhD with ARIES will involve attendance at training events.
ARIES is committed to equality & diversity, and inclusion of students of any and all backgrounds.
Applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited environmental science experience may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses. Usually only UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 26th/27th February 2019.

Further information: View Website or contact us:


1. Bennett, G. L., Miller, S. R., Roering, J. J., & Schmidt, D. A. (2016). Landslides, threshold slopes, and the survival of relict terrain in the wake of the Mendocino Triple Junction. Geology, 44(5), 363-366.
2. Carey, J.M.; Moore, R.; Petley, D.N. 2015 Patterns of movement in the Ventnor landslide complex, Isle of Wight, southern England. Landslides, 12(6): 1107-1118; doi: 10.1007/s10346-014-0538-1
3. Johnson, J. H., Savage, M. K., & Townend, J. (2011). Distinguishing between stress‐induced and structural anisotropy at Mount Ruapehu Volcano, New Zealand. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 116(B12).
4. Lei, W. J., Tang, X. Y., Reid, B. J., & Zhou, X. Y. (2016). Spatial distribution of soil hydraulic parameters estimated by pedotransfer functions for the Jialing River Catchment, Southwestern China. Journal of Mountain Science, 13(1), 29-45.
5. Gharti, H. N., Komatitsch, D., Oye, V., Martin, R., & Tromp, J. (2012). Application of an elastoplastic spectral‐element method to 3D slope stability analysis. International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, 91(1), 1-26.

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