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GEO3144 : Landslides and coasts

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Stuart Dunning
  • Lecturer: Dr Seb Pitman
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


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.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:00PiP Lectures
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture42:008:001-2 of: GIS / modelling based problems, varies by year dependent upon recent events
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion165:0065:00Split between the two assessments
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, collect 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.

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.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M702500 words
Oral Examination2M30Oral 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 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 noon academic evidence

Reading Lists