Exploring coastal cliff instability with distributed fibre optic sensors


Exploring coastal cliff instability with distributed fibre optic sensors


Project Description


Dr. Lidong Bie (University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences) – Contact me

Dr. Jessica Johnson, ENV/UEA

Dr. Andres Payo Garcia, BGS

Prof. Jonathan Chambers, BGS


Project background

One of the great environmental challenges the UK faces now is coastal erosion and cliff instability (1). Fast and active coastal erosion casts shadows on coastal community livelihood and endangers critical infrastructure. Although a natural process, coastal erosion is exacerbated due to climate change and sea level rise. A series of natural factors, such as strength of the rocks making up the coast, weather (rainfall, storms etc) and its seasonal variations, and wave energy, together with human factors, such as existing coastal defences, jointly affect the eroding rate and cliff stability.

This project focuses on the North Norfolk coast, one of fastest eroding sites in the UK. We aim to better understand the active cliff erosion cycle, with a particular emphasis on the processes leading up to cliff failure and the underlying factors that affects the timing and size of failure. We will use distributed fibre optic sensors to monitor tiny ground movement at unprecedented resolution. This cutting-edge technique converts optic cable to an array of distributed sensors taking dense and continuous measurements in space ang time. The dataset offers unique opportunity to learn how ground deformation changes with weather, geology and wave energy (2). This helps identify informative signal that are indicative of processes leading up to cliff failure. We will establish the temporal and spatial evolution of subsurface seismic velocity change (3,4,5), to reveal whether there is any seasonal variability in hydrogeological conditions (5) that may impact the frequency and magnitude of cliff failure.

The individual will benefit from working with the multidisciplinary supervisory team and gain key skills in large-scale data processing and preparing scientific results for publication and presentation. The individual will have the opportunity to participate in data retrieval on the beautiful Norfolk coast, and to further shape the project focus, depending on research interest.

Person specification

We seek an enthusiastic individual who must have a degree in a relevant geoscience, physical sciences or computing discipline. The individual should be numerically literate and experience of programming and Unix based operating systems is desirable.


  • Poulton, C.V., Lee, J., Hobbs, P., Jones, L. and Hall, M., 2006. Preliminary investigation into monitoring coastal erosion using terrestrial laser scanning: case study at Happisburgh, Norfolk. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Norfolk, pp.45-64.
  • Zhan, Z., 2020. Distributed acoustic sensing turns fiber‐optic cables into sensitive seismic antennas. Seismological Research Letters, 91(1), pp.1-15.
  • Bie, L., Hicks, S., Rietbrock, A., Goes, S., Collier, J., Rychert, C., Harmon, N., Maunder, B. and VoiLA Consortium, 2022. Imaging slab-transported fluids and their deep dehydration from seismic velocity tomography in the Lesser Antilles subduction zone. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 586, p.117535.
  • Bacon, C.A., Johnson, J.H., White, R.S. and Rawlinson, N., 2022. On the origin of seismic anisotropy in the shallow crust of the Northern Volcanic Zone, Iceland. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 127(1), p.e2021JB022655.
  • Dou, S., Lindsey, N., Wagner, A.M., Daley, T.M., Freifeld, B., Robertson, M., Peterson, J., Ulrich, C., Martin, E.R. and Ajo-Franklin, J.B., 2017. Distributed acoustic sensing for seismic monitoring of the near surface: A traffic-noise interferometry case study. Scientific reports, 7(1), pp.1-12.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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