The School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

Staff Profile

Dr Tom Robinson

Lecturer in Physical Geography


Research Interests

Keywords: Earthquakes; Landslides; Hazard & Risk; Disaster Management; Disaster Risk Reduction; Spatial Modelling

My research and teaching interests are focussed on risk and disasters, with a specific focus on earthquakes in mountain environments. My specialities are in spatial modelling of earthquake-generated landslide hazard and risk, and scenario modelling with a focus on large-scale simulations for governments, militaries, and humanitarians for emergency response and disaster risk reduction.

Qualifications and Roles

2019 –             Lecturer in Physical Geography; Newcastle University

2017 – 2019    Addison Wheeler Research Fellow; Durham University

2015 – 2017    COFUND Junior Research Fellow; Durham University

2014 – 2015    Post-Doctoral Research Associate; University of Canterbury NZ

2011 – 2014    Ph.D. Hazard and Disaster Management; University of Canterbury NZ

2007 – 2011    MSci (Hons) Geology and Geophysics; Imperial College London


Awards and Honours

2017: PATA Days Conference Plenary Speaker

2016: Lloyd’s Bank Science of Risk Prize – Finalist

2016: SSA Conference Invited Keynote Speaker

2015: Jim Cole Prize – Winner

2013: EMQUAL Conference Invited Speaker

2013: University of Canterbury Student Association Lecturer of the Year – Nominee

2013: University of Canterbury Student Association Good Character of the Year - Nominee

2011: Associate of the Royal School of Mines


My research is focussed on earthquakes, specifically the fundamental mechanisms of the hazards they generate and how best to plan for and reduce the risk they pose. In particular, I focus on developing novel means for modelling earthquake risk in mountain environments, with a focus on four specific themes:

  1. The use of scenarios for modelling earthquake impacts and deriving seismic risk;
  2. Understanding and modelling the role of earthquake-triggered landslides in earthquake disasters;
  3. Understanding the temporal and spatial variability of earthquake risk; and
  4. Finding ways to effectively translate and communicate this knowledge at high-level.

To date, I have worked with governments, militaries, and humanitarian agencies in New Zealand, Nepal, and Bhutan to evaluate and model the impacts resulting from future major earthquakes. This includes work on the development of earthquake simulations for emergency response and training, as well as research to inform the prioritisation of seismic risk at national and regional levels.

My most key research findings have been:

  1. Current approaches for assessing seismic risk are not suitable for contingency planning, but ensemble-style modelling can produce such pertinent information (Robinson et al 2018 - PNAS; Davies et al 2015 - IJDRR);
  2.  The variation in earthquake impacts can be significantly smaller than the variation in possible earthquake scenarios, suggesting similar impacts may occur in multiple different scenarios (Robinson et al 2018 - PNAS);
  3. The factors and conditions that cause landslide during earthquakes are similar in multiple environments and can therefore be modelled without prior data for any location globally (Kritikos et al 2015 - JGR; Robinson et al 2017 - NHESS);
  4. There is both a need and a capability to undertake the modelling in near-real-time following an earthquake including estimates of loss to assist emergency response (Robinson et al 2018 - BSSA; Williams et al 2018 - NHESS).

My current work aims to address a series of research questions focussed on generating a more complete understanding of the temporal variations in seismic risk:

  1. Does increasing our knowledge of time varying exposure hold greater gains for earthquake risk reduction than increasing our knowledge of the primary hazard?
  2. How do landslides and their associated risk evolve following an earthquake?
  3. How can science on earthquake risk continue to be better aligned with contingency planning and disaster risk reduction at national and regional scale?


GEO1020: Introduction to Physical Geography

GEO2127: Doing Physical Geography Research: Theory and Practice

GEO2227: New Zealand Field Course 

GEO3155: Geographies of Risk (Module Leader)