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Landsliding in Nepal: exploring the role of earthquakes, rivers and roads (BOULTON_UPLYM17EE) - CASE studentship with AECOM

Project description

The Problem

Landslides are a global hazard occurring in many countries and landscapes, posing significant risk to infrastructure and populations. Yet many questions and challenges remain before landslide occurrence and distribution can be effectively modelled, especially in areas where multiple triggers for landsliding exist. For example, observations have shown that rainfall triggered landslides are more common after large earthquakes, suggesting that hillslopes retain damage from previous earthquakes making them more susceptible to future events – a concept referred to as preconditioning.  his project will investigate the role of landscape preconditioning resulting from earthquake damage in the Nepal Himalaya, as well as the impact of natural and man-made incision (i.e., road building) on landslide distribution and frequency in the region. The study will focus on regions effected by three large (Mw>6.6) earthquakes (1988, 2011, 2015). 

Research Methodology

The project will combine remote sensing techniques and field observations to build a rigorous database of landslide events in the study region. A range of remotely sensed and field data will be used to determine ground movement, volumes and run-out distances of landslides. These data will provide inputs for spatial analysis of earthquake and monsoon-generated landslides, and the impact of road-building on earthquake frequency. Collectively, data will then be used to test and refine models of hillslope sensitivity to landslide triggering, therefore contributing to global efforts to understand better landslide dynamics in a changing world.

Two field seasons to Nepal will be undertaken to ground-truth, measure and assess the impact of landslides.  Furthermore, this studentship is a collaborative project between Plymouth University, University of East Anglia and the CASE partner AECOM ( so will require travel between Plymouth and Norwich. 3-5 months will be spent working with AECOM in Plymouth or Nepal.


The student will receive training in remote sensing and GIS, field geomorphic techniques (geomorphic mapping, TruPulse, DGPS surveys) and engineering geology methodologies (slope stability, soil penetration), as well as generic research skills. 

We are looking for a candidate who is confident in carrying out fieldwork abroad and can integrate data from different geological disciplines. A first degree in a geoscience discipline, GIS/Remote sensing or similar is desirable.

The successful candidate will be registered for a PhD in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17 the stipend was £14,296.

For further information, please visit


(i) Bennett, G.L., Miller, S.R., Roering, J.J., Schmidt, D., (2016) Landslides, thresholds and the survival of relict terrain in the wake of the Mendocino Triple Junction. Geology. doi:10.1130/G37530.1

(ii) Griffiths, J.S., Mather, A.E. & Stokes, M. 2015. 'Mapping landslides at different scales' Quarterly journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, 48, (1) 29-40

(iii) Parker, R.N., Hancox, G.T., Petley, D.N., Massey, C.I., Densmore, A.L. and Rosser, N.J., 2015. Spatial distributions of earthquake-induced landslides and hillslope preconditioning in the northwest South Island, New Zealand. Earth Surface Dynamics, 3(4), p.501.

(iv) Wilkinson, S., Whitworth, M., DeJong, M., Ghosh, B., Burton, P., Tallet-Williams, S., Novelli, V., Franco, G., White, T., Trieu, A. Datla, S., Lloyd, T., Goda, K., (2015). Earthquake Impacts on Mountain Communities - Observations and Lessons from the Mw 7.8 Gorkha Earthquake of 25 April, 2015. Proceedings of the Tenth Pacific Conference on Earthquake Engineering Building and Earthquake-Resilient Pacific, 206.

(v) Whittaker, A.C. & Boulton, S.J. 2012 'Tectonic and climatic controls on knickpoint retreat rates and landscape response times' Journal of Geophysical Research – Earth Surface 117, F02024.


Dr Georgina Bennett, School of Environmental Sciences, UEA

Dr Michael Whitworth, AECOM

Dr Martin Stokes, University of Plymouth


  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study Full-time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree geoscience discipline
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 degree