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OP2318 Moving mountains: Large rock-slope failures in the United Kingdom

   Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

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  Dr S Dunning  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


The term ‘rock-slope failure’ incorporates a wide range of landslide types, from very slow creep through to catastrophic rock avalanches. Deep seated, creeping RSF are common throughout high-mountain regions, and, a proportion of them above infrastructure or water bodies give genuine cause for concern as they may transition into rapid runout landslides that will either directly impact, or, trigger a hazard cascade (for example, a RSF into a lake, triggering a tsunami/displacement wave). There is evidence in some regions that these events are becoming more common, or, in the case of slow-creep RSF, accelerating as climate changes. In the U.K. our known population of RSF (some 1200+) are generally thought to be relict landforms, linked (although lagged by several thousand years) to deglaciation. However, recent work using InSAR has raised the intriguing possibility that a large number are still actively deforming and are more similar to more ‘active’ mountain landscapes. Elsewhere this has been linked to changes in climate over multiple timescales, and, we may be entering a window of enhanced complete failure.

Here we aim to:

  1. generate an inventory of actively moving RSF in the U.K.
  2. investigate which of these may have the ability to transition into a rapid failure mode
  3. explore ways of dating paleo-creep, and, actively monitor contemporary creep.

The successful student, depending on their interests and background can expect to develop skills in: time-series deformation monitoring; remote sensing; in-situ sensor design and installation; drone and terrestrial LiDAR. Fieldwork is not compulsory.

Key Research Gaps and Questions:

  1. How many large rock-slope failures in the U.K. are still active?
  2. Will any creeping rock-slope failures transition to a rapid failure mode?
  3. Can we date the history of creep?


Skills in GIS. remote sensing, geomorphic mapping, time-series analyses would be desirable attributes. For more information, please contact [Email Address Removed]


Indicative references that provide an overview:
Mamot, P., Weber, S., Eppinger, S., and Krautblatter, M. (2021) A temperature-dependent mechanical model to assess the stability of degrading permafrost rock slopes, Earth Surf.
Dynam., 9, 1125–1151.
Jarman, D. and S. Harrison (2019). Rock slope failure in the British mountains.Geomorphology 340: 202-233.
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