PHD Project

October 21, 2019

Landslide early warning: developing novel geophysical monitoring approaches to see inside unstable slopes

Landslide early warning: developing novel geophysical monitoring approaches to ‘see inside’ unstable slopes

Slope instability is responsible for considerable social and economic harm. In the UK, impacts are principally economic, through damage and disruption to critical infrastructure (e.g. railways, flood defences, reservoir dams etc.), costing >£100 million annually. Further afield, in areas with high rainfall and mountainous conditions (e.g. South East Asia) impacts are considerably greater, including enormous loss of life. Conventional landslide investigation is still heavily reliant on point sensors, which provide insufficient spatial resolution in heterogeneous ground conditions, or surface observations (e.g. walkover, remote sensing), which can only identify the surface expression of failure, by which time it is often too late to take remedial action.

To better understand subsurface precursors to landslide events, considerable research efforts are going into developing geophysical imaging technologies for this application. They offer the potential to ‘see-inside’ unstable slopes to identify the processes leading to slope failure. Although proof-of-concept has been developed for several key techniques (e.g. geoelectrics, seismics), further work is required to translate geophysical observations into quantitative geotechnical information (e.g. moisture-content, pore-pressure) that can be used directly by engineers to manage landslide hazard. Our hypothesis is that suitably calibrated time-lapse geophysical models can enable quantitative assessments of subsurface moisture-driven processes at the spatial and temporal resolution required for landslide early-warning.

The specific aim of this project is to explore and improve the resolution and reliability of geophysical derived slope condition information to enable early warning of landslide events. It will involve developing cutting-edge geophysical approaches to address a very practical and pressing problem. The student will be embedded in a team of geophysicists, hydrogeologists and engineers across BGS, Lancaster University and our industrial partner Socotec. The student will work on landslides in the UK, India and Canada, and will have the opportunity to access specialist training in landslide hazard assessment and management.

Applicants should have strong numerical abilities and hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Earth Science, Physics, Engineering, Environmental Science, Natural Sciences.

For further details please contact Prof Jonathan Chambers ( or Prof Andy Binley (