Geotechnical engineers will acquire a greater understanding of catastrophic earthwork failures following the creation of a large-scale National Engineered Slope Simulator at Loughborough University.
Worldwide, landslides caused by earthquakes and heavy rainfall kill thousands of people annually. They also damage infrastructure and disrupt access to lifelines such as water supplies and transport links.
Despite the devasting consequences of earthwork failures there is limited understanding of why and when they occur. According to Loughborough University, there is currently no capability anywhere in the world to undertake simulations that would provide this information.
Now, the University has received a £500,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation to create a simulator aimed at transforming national and international research capacity in this field.
“This is one of the most intriguing and important grants awarded this funding round,” said Paul Ramsbottom, chief executive of the Wolfson Foundation. “It is based around brilliant science and will be one of the only facilities of its kind – not just in the UK but beyond.”
Large-scale slopes will be constructed on a tilting table and subjected to cycles of controlled wetting and drying to simulate seasonal weather conditions. The table will be tilted and held at specified angles during this process, creating slope deterioration. Continuous monitoring, followed by rotating the slope to failure, will provide unique information on the impact of different weather patterns and extremes.
The tilting table will also provide an opportunity to investigate the performance of slope remediation interventions to an extent that has not been possible before, which will allow optimisation of slope repair and design.
The simulator is expected to enable engineers to design, deliver and maintain affordable and safe infrastructure that is resilient to the increasing environmental risks.
Professor Neil Dixon and Dr Alister Smith from Loughborough’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering will lead the simulator project and the associated research programme, supported by a team of colleagues. They previously created the world’s first commercial acoustic emission slope monitoring system and have conducted extensive research into slope failures.
In a statement, Professor Dixon said: “This exceptional facility will transform research capability in the geotechnical engineering sector. It will enable us to work with our academic and stakeholder partners across the UK to investigate and understand the causes of earthwork slope failures, optimise remediation strategies and inform the design of new infrastructure.”