NERC PhD Studentship – Hazard and Risk – Landslides Future climates – Understanding how the failure of engineered slopes impact UK transport networks

An excellent and highly-numerate student is sought for a fully-funded NERC PhD studentship in the area of hazard and risk. This is central to Loughborough’s strategic interest in further understanding how the natural environment impacts the built one, and using this to inform policy makers in the government and industry running the UK’s infrastructure (e.g., Environment Agency, Highways Agency).

A studentship is available in the Department of Geography, and will benefit from co-supervision with world leading experts in Civil Engineering and from direct interaction with the British Geological survey (BGS). Training in each will include fieldwork and GIS modelling techniques giving the student strength in skills identified by NERC as ‘most wanted’ for jobs in the environment sector; ‘modelling’, ‘multi-disciplinarity’, ‘numeracy’, ‘risk and uncertainty’.

Geo-hazards and in particular landslides represent a significant (>£100 million/yr), but often unrecognised, threat to the UK economy. This PhD will evaluate a key question: What are the origins and future impacts of the landslides in constructed slopes that are likely to most severely afflict transport infrastructure in the UK in response to the forecast changes in climate? Landslide susceptibility maps exist, but these cannot account for clustering of the threat in space or time, or how complex systems such as road networks will be impacted. This project will develop ‘Catastrophe modelling’, an industry-based GIS methodology that uses many (e.g., 10,000) simulated events and their damage ‘footprints’ to assess losses (e.g., £) in order to plan ahead and minimise likely worst-case scenarios. Specifically, key simplifications will be sought to incorporate ‘memory’ of past rainfall, simultaneous slides, and network failures. Observational data will be obtained by engaging with stakeholders such as the Highways Agency. A core of the envisaged work is low risk building on existing excellence in the FUTURENET transport landslide project but scope exists for a student to innovate and excel. Training will include that in (i) catastrophe modelling, (ii) landslide risk assessment, (iii) the opportunity for three 2-month placements at the BGS. Experience in financial risk assessment for natural hazards, transferable to its humanitarian equivalent ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’, will place the student well for a range of careers. Supervision will be by Dr Hillier, who worked as a ‘catastrophe modeller’ at Zurich Insurance Plc., and Prof. Dixon is a geo-technical landslide expert.

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Funding and eligibility

Due to funding restrictions the studentship is open to UK/EU graduates with background in relevant engineering and science degrees provided that they are articulate, well qualified and highly motivated. The minimum entry qualification is a 2.1 Honours degree or equivalent. Due to funding restrictions applicants must be classed as home students for fee purposes. It is for 3 years and covers fees at a UK/EU rate of £13,726 for the 2013/2014 academic year with cost of living adjustments in years 2 and 3. The candidate will be expected to register for 1st January 2014.

Additional Information

Applications can be made on-line by clicking the Apply link below. For further details and enquiries about the application process, please contact Ms Sue Clarke (

Applications will be accepted until 8th November 2013.

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