Education, Landscapes, Risk

Nuffield Research Placement at Cardiff University – a students perspective

Asia Hoile and Katie Hale, Nuffiled Research Placement Students at the Sustainable Places Research Institute

Our summer at Cardiff was certainly one to remember! I can honestly say that I loved every minute of participating in landslide research and have learnt so much from the experience. I must admit, the thought of four weeks of research with two students and two academics, none of whom I’d met before, seemed a little daunting to say the least. Despite this, Evie, Kate and I were welcomed onto the REACH team with open arms, and our placement ended up lasting six weeks altogether.

During this time I learnt a number of skills, from understanding the project itself and the initial mapping of landslides to participating in a reading group and eventually analysing and interpreting my own data to write my Nuffield project entitled: ‘Investigating the effect of geology on the recovery of hill slopes following an earthquake’.

My favourite part of the placement has to be our fieldtrips. Visiting areas such as Blaencwm, Aberfan and Porthkerry really helped me appreciate the true size and extent of the landslides in Sichuan, but also the threats they pose to surrounding areas and inhabitants.

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Another highlight was using the AR Sandbox. It certainly was interesting to model our own topography and watch as the software adapted to this, for example generating water or lava flow over the landscape.

My Project

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My research was conducted by initially mapping the landslides by drawing polygons around the failures at three different dates between 2008 and 2016 using Google Earth. This method was recently published by Tang et al. (2016) and was used as it is able to provide more intricate detail of landslide development in the Sichuan province, to further understand what causes hill slopes to continue to fail, many years after an earthquake. This is the first time that this method has been used to study this area.

Following this, the data from the landslide mapping was used to create maps using Quantum GIS (QGIS) to visually present the data findings. Data was also analysed by creating graphs using Microsoft Excel. The data shows that following the earthquake in 2008, 2646 landslides were present in Qipan Gully (Basin 3) which is located 3.73km from Wenchuan). This number increased by 116 in 2014 and 95 in 2016 to a total of 2857 landslides. Due to the lack of images available previous to the earthquake, it is unclear how many, if any earthquakes were present prior to the 2008. The basin where the data was collected for this report contained three rock types: volcanic, granite and greywacke. Although more evidence is needed, it appears that rock type influences the time taken for the landslide to recover.

The results show that landslides formed on bedrock of granite are more likely to have a greater volume, while those formed on greywacke are more likely to have a greater area. Overall, granite appears to take the greatest amount of time to heal, following a landslide. However to validate and support these findings further, a larger area must be investigated, for example , analysing data from multiple basins to allow a more consistent comparison of the correlation between geology and the rate of hill slope recovery following an earthquake.

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I’d sincerely like to thank Dr. Rob Parker and Dr. T.C. Hales for this opportunity and amazing experience this summer.  – Asia

Katie Hale

I am struggling to think of the right words to sum up the experience I gained at the Sustainable Places Research Institute this summer. Fantastic? Brilliant? Exciting? None of these words are enough, and I am so jealous that this fascinating work marches on whilst I’m back in college.

On the first day, I did not expect to learn so much or make such wonderful friends as I have in Asia and Evie. The project I was fortunate to contribute to was REACH (or Resilience to Earthquake-induced landslide in China), and it opened my eyes to the world of research and inspired me to apply for  a geosciences degrees.  Our work involved mapping basin activity throughout a 10 year time period spanning the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, tracking the temporal and spatial evolution of landsliding rates. In the Taoguan basin, over 3000 individual failures were mapped and I processed this data using GIS software. I answered three of my own hypotheses with the data gathered and wrote a 19 page report focusing on post seismic rainfall induced landsliding rates – something small  to many of you accomplished academics but the biggest piece of writing I’ve done. I was surprised by my findings – I expected landsliding rates to be elevated for many years after such a strong seismic event as the Wenchuan Earthquake but found they returned to lower than background rates after just 6 years. I subsequently learned to explain these findings using the idea of colluvial hollow recovery and loved the feeling of discovery this gave me. I could write forever about what I found out but am very aware that if I start I won’t be able to stop.

In between working in the office, we went on two fieldwork trips to study local landslides and put our work into perspective. This has given me invaluable fieldwork and observational skills and I am so grateful to Rob, Alex and TC for taking us out on these excursions. Learning about the physical processes that formed and shaped Porthkerry beach was particularly interesting as I was unaware of how a rocky beach such as Porthkerry’s is formed through cliff erosion.

I am proud of what I have accomplished while on placement at the Sustainable Places Research Institute,  but even more than that I am excited by the work the REACH team are doing to better understand landslides, potentially saving thousands of lives in the future. – Katie

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