Module Catalogue 2023/24

GEO3144 : Landslides and Coasts

GEO3144 : Landslides and Coasts

  • Offered for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Stuart Dunning
  • Lecturer: Dr Seb Pitman
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System

Modules you must have done previously to study this module

Code Title
GEO2137Key Methods for Physical Geographers
Pre Requisite Comment

GEO2137 Key Methods for Physical Geographers.

Any student without any of the above module must contact the module leader BEFORE signing up to the module to discuss suitability of prior modules taken to ensure fit.


Modules you need to take at the same time

Co Requisite Comment



Mountainous relief is generated by the interaction of tectonics and climate, with the balance responsible for the net change of a landscape’s relief and elevation. The potential of rivers and glaciers to erode (or protect) mountainous landscapes in response to tectonic and climatic forcing has been the focus of much work, with hillslope processes often assumed to respond to, and reflect, undercutting by either process. These hillslope processes undertake the geomorphic work above rivers and ice that lower mountain peaks and retreats valley sides, providing sediment to be mobilized from orogens, therefore playing a key role in controlling relief and elevation. The ability of landslides to transfer sufficient mass to keep pace with fluvial and glacial downcutting and tectonic uplift is not well constrained and is dependent upon characterising their long-term magnitude-frequency. This magnitude-frequency has direct implications for those living, or passing through steep terrain, and those tasked with minimising the threats to life and infrastructure though avoidance, or engineering. Ultimately, the fate of much of this sediment is the Ocean store, via an interrupted pathway with potential sediment sinks in valley floors and lakes. The final critical zone that regulates sediment supply to the deeper oceans is the coast. Here, the interplay between fluvial, terrestrial, and marine processes dictates ultimately whether sediments are transported to the deep ocean, accumulate in prograding terrestrial beach ridges or sand dunes, or move in perpetuity between subaerial and subaqueous zones through the action of coastal storms. The coast can therefore act as a source of sediment through processes such as coastal cliff erosion, with much of our risk from mass movements in the UK confined to this narrow zone, but also a sink with clear transport pathways to the deep ocean. This module will explore the conceptual models of long-term slope evolution, our approaches to monitoring and modelling failure, and the varied approaches to landslide hazard and risk mitigation/management.

Aims: This module aims to develop knowledge and understanding of the principles, theory and practice of hillslope and coastal professionals and researchers, applied geomorphology, monitoring and modelling, and, varied approaches to engineering or societal mitigation.

Outline Of Syllabus

The Syllabus will cover some of:
-       Introduction to hillslope processes, landscape to slope scale
-       Magnitude-frequency and how to measure it over varied timescales
-       Quantifying landslide hazard and risk
-       The mechanics of failure
-       Failure modelling – how safe is your slope?
-       Landslide runout modelling – how far, how fast?
-       Microscale / analogue modelling of debris flows
-       Extraordinary landslides?
-       Landslides and society, willingness and abilities to intervene
-       Mitigation: techniques, challenges and societal risk
-       Landslides and climate change
-       Landslides and glaciers - I see no cirques or moraines, just landslides
-       Landslides and rivers – are landslide just a passive response to incising rivers?
-       Landslide dams, and their outburst floods
-       The landslide sediment cascade
-       Finding lost landslides in the sedimentary records
-       The coast as a source and sink for sediments
-       Storms and sea level as modulators of coastal sediment supply
-       Shoreline management

Practicals, 1—2 of the following in any given year:

-       Microscale modelling of debris flows (desktop analogue landslides).
-       Differencing 3D models to detect landslides (GIS).
-       Runout modelling (numerical) of large rock avalanches/debris flows/rockfall
-       Landslide stability modelling (numerical model).
-       Landslide risk assessment (spreadsheet/GIS)
-       Rockfall runout and mitigation
-       Shoreline evolution: calculating cliff recession

•       x2 day trips or Virtual field trip alternative to ONE of the following locations: Lake District, Northumberland, Yorkshire Coast, or Howgill Fells, S Scotland. Trip location is dependent upon landslide/coastal and engineering activity in the teaching year.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

•       Knowledge of the importance of hillslopes as a discreet sub-discipline in Geography and how it relates to the wider subject areas of engineering, geosciences, risk, and tectonic geomorphology.
•       Describe, illustrate and explain with reference to specific examples the main characteristics of slope processes and the ways in which they create, or destroy, distinctive landscapes over a range of timescales.
•       Explain the role of marine processes in controlling the accumulation and/or loss of sediments at the coast, and describe key management approaches for protection of shorelines against mass movements.
•       Describe and evaluate a range of techniques for the collection, analysis and representation of hillslope processes and an ability to quantify their cumulative impacts
•       Describe and evaluate a range of professional practice reports related to slope stability, shoreline management, and mitigation techniques.
•       Summarise and evaluate a selection of key concepts, debates and research publications related to slope processes, and their implications for short-term and long-term landscape evolution.
•       An understanding of the use of physical and numerical models in furthering our knowledge of hazardous slope events.

Intended Skill Outcomes

1.       Reading – independent research
2.       Field measurement, in person or remotely
3.       Design of research experiments to assess complex real-world risk scenario
4.       Analysis of primary and secondary data sets derived from physical and/or numerical modelling
5.       Written report presentation skills
6.       Teamwork during field, lab or PC based data collection and analyses

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:00PiP Lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion165:0065:00Split between the two assessments
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture42:008:001-2 of: GIS / modelling based problems, varies by year dependent upon recent events
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading198:0098:00Reading and resources related to the assessments and practicals
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork28:0016:00Fieldwork (PIP)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time31:003:00Drop in session related to assessments.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce key concepts across a range of spatial and temporal time-scales, and will utilise research and professional practice case-study examples.

Fieldwork will enable students to be trained in the use of cutting-edge data collection techniques and interpreting these data, and their practical application in mitigating landslide hazard and risk.

Practical classes will allow students to process data collected from fieldwork, analyse secondary data and recommend solutions – all based on real-world situations. the sessions allow students to learn experientially the key skills applicable for further research or employment in linked industries. Each practical is a mix of taught content and independent working with help and supervision.

Drop in sessions (online) linked to discussion boards will provide support with the practical completions and assessment preparation, as will a number lectures with in-class time devoted to assessment/practical support. In previous years this has led to more questions/requests for support than in-person drop-in help sessions.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report1M702500 words
Oral Examination1M30Oral examination. Group presentation to staff/peers.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The report assesses the ability of students to design an appropriate study, collect, analyze and present a range of primary and secondary data, and set this within the theoretical and practice context. The practical work builds upon fieldwork experience, so fieldwork is not independently assessed.

The oral presentation allows a group of students to work together to produce a critical evaluation of a chronic or acute landslide or coastal risk issue, chosen with staff guidance. It develops oral and presentation skills and allows engagement with a wide and up to date selection of literature and other non academic evidence.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


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The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2023 academic year.

In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described.

Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2024/25 entry will be published here in early-April 2024. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.