Modelling landslide preconditioning in Nelson, New Zealand

collaboration with GNS Science (JOHNSON_UENV19ARIES)

Modelling landslide preconditioning in Nelson, New Zealand

collaboration with GNS Science (JOHNSON_UENV19ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Jessica Johnson (UEA Environmental Sciences)

Dr Georgie Bennett (UEA)

Dr Brian Reid (UEA)

Dr Jon Carey (GNS Science)


Many homes in New Zealand are built on steep hillslopes at risk from landslides. This problem is compounded by frequent earthquakes and intense rainfall that cause frequent and widespread landsliding. Large uncertainties remain in landslide hazard models particularly in the face of environmental forces such as shaking from earthquakes and increased climate variability as well as increased pressure from urban development. Further research is needed on how these changes alter the stability of hillslopes in order to improve landslide hazard models. For example, it is known that earthquakes not only trigger landslides but enhance the probability of slope failure in future earthquakes, but the mechanical details of this phenomenon are unknown.

Project and methodology

This project will address three fundamental questions related to landslides in the Nelson region:

1. How do the geotechnical properties of slopes influence the trigger of landslides?
2. How do the soil and rock properties of slopes change as environmental conditions change?
3. How do earthquakes, rainfall and drought pre-condition slopes to fail?

The student will investigate these questions through the use of:

  • Historical data,
  • A month field investigation in New Zealand with GNS Science, and
  • Numerical models.

Results from these components will define relationships between parameters that can be used to enable evolving landslide hazard maps.

Research environment and training

The project will be conducted primarily in the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences, 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 GNS Science, where Dr Carey leads the landslide reactivation research theme.

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.


  • Bennett, G. L., Miller, S. R., Roering, J. J., & Schmidt, D. A. (2016). Landslides, threshold slopes, and the survival of relict terrain in the wake of the Mendocino Triple Junction. Geology, 44(5), 363-366.
  • Carey, J.M.; Moore, R.; Petley, D.N. 2015 Patterns of movement in the Ventnor landslide complex, Isle of Wight, southern England. Landslides, 12(6): 1107-1118; doi: 10.1007/s10346-014-0538-1
  • Johnson, J. H., Savage, M. K., & Townend, J. (2011). Distinguishing between stress‐induced and structural anisotropy at Mount Ruapehu Volcano, New Zealand. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 116(B12).
  • Lei, W. J., Tang, X. Y., Reid, B. J., & Zhou, X. Y. (2016). Spatial distribution of soil hydraulic parameters estimated by pedotransfer functions for the Jialing River Catchment, Southwestern China. Journal of Mountain Science, 13(1), 29-45.
  • Gharti, H. N., Komatitsch, D., Oye, V., Martin, R., & Tromp, J. (2012). Application of an elastoplastic spectral‐element method to 3D slope stability analysis. International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, 91(1), 1-26.

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