Joshua Jones landslide research - Nov 2021 (1280x720)
Thousands of landslides occur globally each year, killing scores of people and causing significant damage to property and infrastructure.
However despite extensive research, the ability to forecast when and where a landslide will occur, especially in tectonically active regions, remains a significant scientific challenge.
This is because extreme events like earthquakes can cause the numbers of landslides to increase for many years after the fact; a phenomenon that has only recently been recognised.
A new project aims to begin addressing the issue of variations in landsliding through time, and will go some way to providing communities and governments with the type of information that could ultimately save thousands of lives.
The EXCESS project, led by the University of Plymouth, will start in February 2024, and is being funded through a grant of £778,812 from the Natural Environment Research Council.
It will build on existing research that has looked into the causes and effects of landslides all over the world, including helping to compile a 30-year database of monsoon-triggered landslides in Nepal.

There are many things that can cause a landslide, from natural disasters and heavy rainfall to human activity causing material on a hillside to collapse. They also differ hugely in scale, but between 2004 and 2016; almost 56,000 people died worldwide in more than 4,800 separate landslide events. The devastation and disruption cause by these incidents, often in some of the poorest and most remote regions in the world, present a number of challenges for us as scientists and local agencies tasked with managing the response. As such, we need to do everything we can to improve the ways in which we forecast these events.

Sarah BoultonSarah Boulton
Associate Professor of Active and Neotectonics, EXCESS project Principal Investigator

The EXCESS project will have two main aims, the first being to create a series of landslide catalogues showing changes to the landscape before, during and after large earthquakes in six different regions across diverse areas of the world such as New Zealand and Haiti.
Compiled using high-resolution satellite imagery, these datasets will allow researchers to accurately determine the long-term average rate of landslide occurrence in each region and identify the size and duration of periods of increased landsliding following an earthquake.
They will also be used in landslide susceptibility models at regional level to form outputs that can be used in hazard and risk mitigation by national/regional governments and agencies.
In addition to that, the research team will develop a new process-based computer model to simulate the mechanisms of landslide occurrence.
This model will take into account the impact of sudden and rapid environmental changes, something that hasn’t previously been factored into such discussions.
It will provide researchers with the ability to model multiple earthquakes from tens to thousands of years, ultimately increasing the ability to accurately forecast the location of landslides across earthquake cycles.

Until relatively recently, scientists had thought that the rate of landsliding in a certain area is constant from year to year, and that landslides would occur in similar places in those landscapes. If this were the case, it would make the events far more predictable. We now appreciate that isn’t the case, so we need more a sophisticated means of forecasting landslides and through this project, we hope to develop that.

Dr Sarah Boulton