The UK Cliffs network is studying climate change and its effects on slope stability. Tom Dijkstra and Neil Dixon from Cliffs report.
Topography, geology, climatic conditions and human modification of the landscape result in slope processes that have an important impact on the built environment and infrastructure in the UK.
Many tens of thousands of people live with continuing slope instability or the threat of instability of actively eroding coastlines and unstable inland slopes. Thousands of kilometres of transport links and utilities are located in areas susceptible to slope failure.
Planning and design involving assessments of slope stability often takes place based on relatively static information (represented by maps, soil parameters, hydrological models).
However, changes in dominant input parameters (such as precipitation and temperature) are now clearly occurring at a rate that make it questionable whether steady state information is relevant at best or misleading at worst.
A range of forecast scenarios of slope instability and distribution are needed, with each scenario being associated with a certain level of confi ence and a measure of severity of impact on the built environment.
Although, at present, the information from the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) suggests that the whole of the UK will experience a decrease in average soil moisture during the summer months, winter precipitation is expected to increase.
Seasonal extremes are also thought to be more likely. These changes may have important consequences for slope stability.
To achieve a better insight into the links between climate change and slope stability in the UK it is necessary first to determine the information needs and second to focus research efforts on targeted assessments of long term scenarios.
Although detailed processes or individual site conditions are being addressed, general process-response issues are still not well understood or researched - a problem exacerbated by poor communication in this multidisciplinary field.
The Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has now provided funds to start up a broad network called Climate change impact forecasting for slopes (Cliffs).
This aims to address these issues by bringing together academics, R&D agencies, stakeholders, consultants and climate specialists to synthesise knowledge.
The network is managed from a base at Loughborough University and is supported by a large core group (see box).
The aim of the network is to stimulate an integrated research response to the intricately linked problem of forecasting, monitoring, design, management and remediation of climate change induced variations in slope instability.
The size of the task and the complexity of the problem requires the active participation of a wide group to assess the magnitude of the impact on UK society and to identify appropriate management and remediation strategies.
To achieve this, the network will bring together a broad range of academics and industrialists to synthesise knowledge, to agree a prioritised set of research needs, to seek funding for this research, and to disseminate the outcomes as widely as possible.
The Cliffs network falls within the EPSRC prioritised area of Infrastructure and Environment and specifi cally it contributes to the themes of Engineering for Adaptation to Climate Change and Engineering and Science for Sustainability.
A launch workshop will be held in conjunction with a UKCIP and the Hadley Centre consultation session.
This will take place on 26 October at Loughborough University.
Other activities of the network focus on the running of a series of themed workshops covering issues such as risk and uncertainty, hydrological triggers, specifi c problems of embankments and cuttings, mechanisms of fi rst time failure and re-activation, coastal slope instability, the role of vegetation, monitoring and remediation, and the development of strategies for management and information dissemination. The first themed workshop will take place early in 2006.
The outcomes of these workshops will be, among others, identification of key areas where further information is needed and the formation of consortia targeting these areas to win funding for further research. The network will produce documents relevant to each of these themes and will disseminate these through its designated website.
Anyone interested in participating should email cliffs@lboro. ac. uk or visit www. cliffs. lboro. ac. uk where a questionnaire can be downloaded that can be used to contribute your views on the challenges and opportunities of climate change impact forecasting for slopes.
Cliffs core group
British Geological Survey British Waterways Cementation Foundations Skanska Geotechnical Consulting Group British Geotechnical Association Halcrow Group Highways Agency Imperial College London Isle of Wight Council Kingston University Loughborough University Mott MacDonald Nottingham Trent University Queen's University Belfast UK Climate Impacts Programme University of Bristol University of Birmingham University of Newcastle