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  Understanding, Modelling and Predicting Landslides in High Mountain Areas (Norway) - Is Global Warming Increasing Mountain Hazards?

   Faculty of Environment

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  Dr A Abellan, Prof Bill Murphy, Dr J West  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

We invite applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to work on an exciting and truly multi-disciplinary opportunity for investigating landslide hazards in high mountain areas. This research will exploit a unique and timely opportunity to combine rich streams of real-time data–with new models to create a paradigm shift in methodologies for forecasting the temporal occurrence of a catastrophic landslides controlled by permafrost degradation under current global warming scenarios. This project will entail an improved understanding of cryosphere-slope interactions in order to forecast extreme events with sufficient response time to allow evasive/preventive actions to be taken (e.g. Early Warning Systems, effective evacuations, etc.) for hazardous slopes (e.g.: Mannen mountain in Norway

The observed increase in the rate and severity of mass movements in mountainous areas all over the world has been interpreted as a signal of permafrost degradation due to global warming: a trend that is expected to accelerate over the next several decades due to anthropogenic climate change. Rising mean temperatures at the planetary scale combined with rising frequency of regional and local-scale extreme heatwaves over the next decades both have a tremendous impact on cryosphere-related hazards. High-mountain instabilities are controlled both by a progressive strength reduction -associated with permafrost degradation- and a seasonally intermittent water flow through deep fractures.

It is anticipated that this project will have a tangible impact on risk management strategies in the forecasting of mass movements in high-mountain areas. The outputs of this research will be used for decision making on slope failure risk during crises based on joint efforts from risk management stakeholders in Norway and academics in the UK and Norway. Accessing to the fundamental observations (see below), the PhD student will unpick and model the highly non-linear landslide response to both the environmental forcing and the progressive movement of the slope, using a new physically-based time-invariant model for forecasting slope kinematics. Back and forward analysis of tipping point behaviours will be carried out in order to better model extreme and often unexpected events (so-called black swan events). The outputs of this investigation will not only be transferrable to other rock slope failures in permafrost settings, but also constitute the basis of a new generation of Early Warning Systems.

Exceptional data from an active slope failure that is being captured in real-time by the Norwegian project partner (NVE), will be analysed using time-dependent models of brittle failure, which importantly apply to all brittle slope failures worldwide. Examples of high quality datasets that will be available in this project include slope kinematics sensors such as real-time in-situ extensometers, state of-the-art remote sensing techniques (GB-Radar, drones, time-lapse cameras), environmental forcing such as precipitation, snow melting, solar radiation, air temperature, rock temperature at different depths, detailed weather forecast, etc.

The student will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary group with a wide range of expertise including Landslide Modelling, Permafrost Degradation, Early Warning Systems, Hydrology and Risk Management. The student will join the Rock Mechanics/Engineering Geology and, Geotechnical and Hydrology (RMEGGh) cluster within the Institute of Applied Geoscience (IAG) at the University of Leeds), a highly multi-disciplinary with a strong international profile, including around 75 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers of multiple nationalities. Given that the studentship will be delivered in collaboration with an industry partner (NVE), the successful applicant will be expected to spend a minimum of 3 months in a real-world setting outside the academic environment in Norway.

You will be joining an interdisciplinary pool of supervisors (Dr. Antonio Abellan, Dr. William Murphy, Prof. Lars Harald Blikra and Dr. Jared West) from the School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds (UK); Department of Geosciences, The University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway (Norway); Landslides unit at the Norwegian Water and Energy directorate (Norway). Please contact the lead supervisor ([Email Address Removed]) for further information related with the project, required educational background or any other specific questions concerning what the successful applicant will be expected to do. We encourage interested applicants to get in touch and arrange an informal skype meeting to discuss details of the project and get to know each other. Full project description: Research @ Leeds:

Funding Notes

This project is available for funding through the Panorama NERC DTP, please see for funding details and eligibility requirements.

Eligibility and funding: we offer fully funded 3.5 year studentships (stipend + fees) to both UK and EU applicants at the standard UKRI rate. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer studentships to non-EU international candidates.


Some useful references:
- Blikra and Christiansen (2014). A field- based model of permafrost- controlled rockslide deformation in northern Norway. Geomorphology, 208, 34- 49.
- Gruber and Haeberli (2007). Permafrost in steep bedrock slopes and its temperature‐related destabilization following climate change. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface 112.F2.
- Huss et al. (2017). Toward mountains without permanent snow and ice. Earth's Future, 5(5), 418- 435.
- Kos et al (2016). Contemporary glacier retreat triggers a rapid landslide response, Great Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland. Geophysical Research Letters 43 (24), 12,466–12,474.
- Krautblatter et al. (2013). Why permafrost rocks become unstable: a rock–ice‐mechanical model in time and space. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 38(8), 876- 887.
- Oppikofer et al. (2008). Collapse at the eastern Eiger flank in the Swiss Alps. Nature Geoscience, 1(8), 531.
- Phillips et al (2016). Seasonally intermittent water flow through deep fractures in an Alpine Rock Ridge: Gemsstock, Central Swiss Alps. Cold Regions Science and Technology, 125, 117- 127.
- Wirz et al (2016). Short- term velocity variations at three rock glaciers and their relationship with meteorological conditions. Earth Surface Dynamics, 4(1), 103.

Where will I study?