A new monitoring tool for Coastal Landslide Observatories


A new monitoring tool for Coastal Landslide Observatories


Project Description


Dr Jessica Johnson, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Andres Payo Garcia, British Geological Survey (BGS)

Prof Robert Nicholls, Tyndall Centre, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia


In the face of climate change, our coasts are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to more extreme weather events as well as sea-level rise. Coastal defences are often unsustainable and will ultimately be removed in places, allowing greater erosion and loss of cliff-top infrastructure. To manage this erosion, further research is needed on how cliff slopes are weakened and the mechanism of failure to identify areas prone to collapse and provide early warning for coastal landslides, including addressing risk to life.

Through collaboration with BGS and their existing Landslide Observatories, this project will introduce new technology to monitor cracking of coastal cliffs to identify areas of weakness, and to investigate the initiation of failure.

Research Methodology

This project will address three fundamental questions related to coastal landslides in the UK:

  • How does the removal of sea defences affect rock mechanics and platform lowering in the context of landslides?•How do storm conditions and drought pre-condition slopes to fail?
  • Can coastal landslides be forecast using geophysical methods?

The student will conduct geophysical fieldwork on coast lines with varying typology to collect data relating to subsurface cracks and platform lowering. Seismic monitoring equipment will capture ground vibrations from cracking. Electric Resistivity Tomography will be periodically carried out to assess the rate of platform lowering in the upper shore face. The student will process the seismic data to identify areas of weakness and analyse the subsurface throughout variable environmental conditions to answer these questions. Ultimately, this project will contribute to the arsenal of monitoring methods at BGS landslide observatories.

The project will be conducted primarily in the UEA School of ENV, where the background and existing knowledge to support this project are excellent.


Training will be given where necessary in geoscientific methods, general computing skills and specific software. The other institution involved in this project is BGS, where Dr Payo Garcia is a leading coastal geomorphologist. The student will spend at least 3 months hosted at BGS.

Person Specification

Applicants must hold, or expect to receive, a first or upper second-class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant geoscience or physical sciences discipline.


  • Payo, A., Walkden, M., Ellis, M., Barkwith, A., Favis-Mortlock, D., Kessler, H., ... & Lee, J. (2018). A quantitative assessment of the annual contribution of platform downwearing to beach sediment budget: Happisburgh, England, UK. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 6(4), 113.
  • Brown, S., Barton, M. E., & Nicholls, R. J. (2014). Shoreline response of eroding soft cliffs due to hard defences. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers -Maritime Engineering, 167(1), 3-14. DOI: 10.1680/maen.11.00026
  • Nicholls, R. J., Townend, I. H., Bradbury, A., Ramsbottom, D., & Day, S. (2013). Planning for long-term coastal change: experiences from England and Wales. Ocean Engineering, 71, 3-16. DOI: 10.1016/j.oceaneng.2013.01.025
  • Johnson, J. H., & Savage, M. K. (2012). Tracking volcanic and geothermal activity in the Tongariro Volcanic Centre, New Zealand, with shear wave splitting tomography. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, 223, 1-10.
  • Senfaute, G., Duperret, A., & Lawrence, J. A. (2009). Micro-seismic precursory cracks prior to rock-fall on coastal chalk cliffs: a case study at Mesnil-Val, Normandie, NW France. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 9(5), 1625-1641.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • 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 in the subject area (see https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/supervisors/additional-funding/).
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit https://senss-dtp.ac.uk/aries-senss-joint-studentship, or contact SeNSS.dtp@uea.ac.uk.

Studentship Open for Applications

Apply Now