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

Dr Antonio Abellan (SEE), Dr William Murphy (SEE), Prof Lars Harald Blikra (NVE - Norway) and Dr Jared West (SEE)

Project partner(s): Landslide Unit - Norwegian Water and Energy directorate (CASE)

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We invite applications for a 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 scenario. 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.) in hazardous slopes (e.g.: Mannen mountain in Norway 

Background Information

The observed increase in the rate and severity of mass movements in mountainous areas all over the world has been interpreted as signals 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 planetary scale combined with regional and local-scale extreme heatwaves will become more frequent over the next decades, both having a tremendous impact in 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.

Impact and Expected Outcomes

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 crisis thanks to the joint efforts both 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 model better extreme and often unexpected events (the 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.

Available Data

Exceptional data of an active slope failure that is being captured in real-time by 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.

CASE Studentship

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 experience outside the academic environment in Norway.

Further Information

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 ( | for further information related with the project or any other specific questions concerning what the successful applicant will be expected to do and educational background. 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.

Click here for a full project description.