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Climate challenge to slope management highlighted at conference

The impact of climate change on stability of slopes and coping with spending cuts has been highlighted by several speakers at today’s GE Slope Engineering conference in London.

“Climate change is happening but the problem is with uncertainty about the rate of change and how this will impact on long term slope stability,” said Loughborough University professor of geotechnical engineering Neil Dixon. “What is clear though is that while the mean values are increasing, the rate of extreme events is increasing at twice a rate and it these events that often have the greatest impact on slope stability.

“These heavy rainfall events and increasing rainfall over a longer period result in pore pressure changes that trigger instability but we also have the problem of aging structures, stress history and vegetation of slopes contributing to the problems.”

Dixon called for more research into how different rainfall patterns affect failure mechanism and pointed to the data on Mam Tor in Derbyshire, which has been collected since 1900 and continues to be gathered despite closure of the road in 1979.

“We need to work out whether it is more important to be proactive or reactive when it comes to dealing with landslides,” said Dixon.

Atkins technical director David Shilston, who is also president of the Geological Society said that the growing impact of the climate on slope stability means that hydrogeologists are needed to provide input into designs and analysis. “In the future a new discipline of engineering hydrogeology will be needed to meet the challenges,” he added.

Shilston went on to highlight the issue of managing this climate challenge and need for more research alongside meeting government targets for reduced spending. “Many areas of public spending have been cut by 30% in the last few years at a time when there is already a £9.5bn backlog in maintenance needs,” he said. “The impact of even a small slope failure can have a huge effect on infrastructure and the cost of recovery and repair.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • There is no scientific basis for Professor Dixon's claim that climate change is causing increase in extreme weather or that the rate of extreme events is increasing. I challenge him to provide any reference to serious scientific research to the contrary.

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  • There is plenty of evidence that Climate Change is causing extreme weather. Of course no one storm can itself be attributed, but the time series evidence is indesputable.
    The first thing to do is to look at the peer -reviewed findings in the July 2011 edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The papers are by NOAA and the UK Meteorological Office.
    Or look up the work of the Met office's Peter A Stott whose work shows consistent estimates of warming attributable to greenhouse gas emissions.
    Or look at research carried out at the University of Reading and published in the journal Nature Geoscience relating weather and warming. 7 October 2012.
    If you want to spend the time, you could then follow the data from changes in ice mass to changes in the Jet stream to changes in weather. The data is all there, and is another direct link of climate change to our weather..
    Begin by examining the scientific data on the rate of change of ice mass particularly the use of NASA, Cryosat, and ISAT satellite data - work forwards from the 2006 University of Colorado data and finish with the recent November 2012 report - you can find references to that via BBC web pages- perhaps speak to David Shepherd of Leeds University who has explained that “every single researcher that had ever published a paper estimating the rise in sea level caused by ice sheet melting has signed up to” the results announced. Without going into the minutiae of the data, the pooled results showed why there had been different estimates of polar ice change in the past. It showed that in the 1990s the polar ice sheets were not contributing much to the rise in sea level – about 0.3 mm per year. But in the five years up to 2012 the rate had increased to 1mm per annum, and the rate of change shows no sign of declining.
    Then go to. Seymour Laxon of the UCL Centre for Polar Observation or contact Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University who has plenty of data on the loss of sea ice, and who predicts it may disappear from the arctic within 5 years. They both link sea ice loss to climate change.
    Once you have accepted the warming is attributable to man's activity, and that climate change has caused change in polar ice, and looked at the effect on the arctic polar albedo, then look at the effect this has on the Jet Stream and ocean currents.
    Unusual movement of the Jet stream was stated by Met office to be i) influential in the Tewkesbury Hull flooding in 2007 ii) influential in the 2009 Cumbrian flooding of Workington and Cockermouth and iii) influential in the way hurricane Sandy moved. The catastrophic flooding of New York would have been avoided but for the combination of a Norwester and a displaced north-south Jet Stream.
    You only need a lay person's understanding of meteorology to see how the Jet Stream has influenced our weather over the last few years and how we no longer have predictable weather in nicely balanced seasons. The papers are there if you want to read them.
    Prof Peter Gardiner FICE

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  • ".....time series evidence is indesputable." All scientific explanations are, in principle, disputable, and the use of such language plainly denotes dogma driven prejudice. As for the specific example cited, the time series is absolutely disputable, firstly because there have been many precedents that have come and gone (Is Gardiner unaware that the time series sequence in the 30s (hot) was followed almost precisely by its flip side during the 40s?) and, secondly, because the record of recent major weather incidents (including Sandy!!) have demonstrated not just how fewer have been such events in number but also in intensity.

    "Unusual movement of the Jet stream was stated by Met office to be i) influential in the Tewkesbury Hull flooding in 2007 ii) influential in the 2009 Cumbrian flooding of Workington and Cockermouth and iii) influential in the way hurricane Sandy moved."

    Well gee, Mr. Gardiner, ya don't say! When, pray, has the Met Office ever been right - bbq summers and balmy winters. As for Peter Stott, isn't it his job to cook the books? With all this warming why, one might wonder, has the Met Office also acknowledged (reluctantly, to be sure!) a 16 year temperature stasis?

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  • "Once you have accepted the warming is attributable to mans activity" you have closed your mind to rational thought Mr Gardiner.
    We are either entering an ice age (as thought about 40 years ago) or we are coming out of one in which case the climate will be warming. Whichever it is humans have to adapt.
    For example rational thought says we look at our management of river courses, the irrational says we put our electrical generation capacity in the middle of the sea in the hope of changing the rainfall in the far future.

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