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PhD in Earth Sciences: The fate of landslide debris after large earthquakes, Wenchuan, China (PhD Studentship)


Reference Number: R2704

Closing Date:01/04/2016

Duration:3.5 years

Funding Amount:UK/EU Fees

Level of Study:Postgraduate Research

Regions:EU (Non UK), International (Non EU), UK

Project title: The fate of landslide debris after large earthquakes, Wenchuan, China

Following major earthquakes, landslides and the material they produce represent significant and persistent hazards to life and infrastructure. This project seeks to understand how earthquake-induced landslide material moves through a post-earthquake landscape. Studies of post-earthquake sediment yields from rivers suggest that there is a heightened post-earthquake erosional signal that persists for at least a decade [Dadson et al., 2004; Hovius et al., 2011]. Most earthquake-triggered landslides (~70% of the landslides in Wenchuan) transport debris directly from hillslopes to channels creating landslide dams and/or sedimentation hazards [Huang and Li, 2014; Parker et al., 2011]. The remaining ~30% of landslide debris is deposited on hillslopes. Where is landslide sediment generated, transported, and deposited during and after earthquake events? Is this sediment new material derived from strong seismic ground motions shattering bedrock or is it weathered material derived from hillslopes? Can we model the pathways of post-earthquake landslide debris? This PhD project will attempt to understand spatial patterns of landslide material generation and monitor this through the 10-year period after a major earthquake-induced landslide event (the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake).

The project is designed around the three objectives:

(1) Measuring the spatial evolution of post-earthquake sedimentation in upland areas. We will interrogate topographic and remotely sensed datasets to understand the controls on why a landslide transports material to a channel or deposits material to create secondary hazards. Using the current landslide inventory we will determine how topographic, geologic, hydrologic, and seismic controls affect how sediment is transported from hillslopes to channels. These observations will be supplemented using high resolution, multi-temporal DTM’s collected in catchments with significant debris flow hazard.

(2) We will attempt to understand the distribution of geotechnical properties of landslide debris found on hillslopes associated with different degrees of landsliding. This will be supplemented by detailed, site-specific measurements of topographic roughness collected using laser scanning and photogrammetry methods.

(3) Modelling the distribution of sediment generated by landslides, using a stochastic approach [Benda and Dunne, 1997]. Using the empirical datasets collected in parts 1 and 2, the project will attempt to understand rates of sediment mobilisation and removal.

The advertised PhD project is associated with a Natural Environment Research Council / Economic and Social Research Council / Newton Fund / Natural Science Foundation of China NERC/ESRC/NSFC/Newton Fund proposal to investigate the resilience to post-earthquake landsliding. The project involves working closely with our Chengdu partners, and the successful student would likely spend up to 2 months working in Chengdu, with fieldwork based in the Wenchuan area. The successful candidate will join a strong project group that includes 3 postdoctoral research associates and 1 other UK based PhD student and 3 China-based PhD students.

Research in the School is organised into three research groups: Solid, Living and Changing. In these themes, there are twelve research themes each producing high quality research environments that include; Cold climates, Earth surface processes, Ecosystems in deep time, Geomicrobiology, Marine microfossils: taxonomy, stratigraphy, and evolution, Microbial biogeochemistry, Ocean lithosphere processes, Palaeoclimate and climate systems, Plants and environmental dynamics, Processes in mineral deposit formation, Subsurface and mantle geodynamics, The African continent

In line with our high quality research, we provide an active research environment. Outside of the day-to-day opportunities to use high quality research equipment and work with world experts, students participate actively in the School. Students present their research at the end of the first year, then regularly after that in both research group and school meetings. Students are required to perform 12 days of training per year, these days include demonstrating and teaching in the field and laboratories, learn skills in mathematics and physics, and other essential skills.

Supervisors: Dr. T.C. Hales (Cardiff), Dr. Robert Parker (Cardiff), Dr. Daniel Hobley (Cardiff) , Prof. Runqiu Huang (Chengdu University of Technology) & Dr. Xuanmei Fan (Chengdu University of Technology)

Start date: 1 October 2016

Number of Studentships: 1