PhD position at the University of Warwick

Topic: “Engineering modelling of the progressive retreat of cliffs”
The deadline for applications is 7 April 2012
For any information on the PhD, please email:

Description of the position:
Morphological evolution of cliffs (natural and excavated slopes) is a traditional subject in geology which investigates the evolution of the landscape over time. Modelling of the progressive retreat of cliffs has recently received considerable attention by the engineering community due to increasing coastal erosive processes caused by climate change and increased environmental awareness at national and European level. Coastal retreat is a problem particularly important for several countries in Europe (e.g. Italy, France). It is calculated that in the UK alone, 80% of the coast is subject to some form of erosion leading to coastal retreat.

The house insurance industry needs reliable models for the predictions of the amount of cliff retreat over time for residential buildings located in exposed areas whereas local authorities and decision makers need to know the level of risk faced by the public infrastructure (e.g. coastal roads, pedestrian footpaths, car parks, etc.).

The geological models employed until now are mainly empirical. Recently, a general model of cliff retreat based on soil mechanics has been proposed (Utili and Crosta, 2011 Modelling the evolution of natural slopes subject to weathering: Part I and Part II Journal of Geophysical Research – earth surface, vol 116, F01016 and F01017) for dry cohesive frictional geomaterials. The thesis will explore how to introduce the effect of seepage and tension cracks in the model to extend its validity to wet conditions and to soils of limited tensile resistance. The thesis may involve an analytical (based on limit analysis), numerical (based on the Discrete Element Method and Finite Element Method) and experimental (based on small scale tests run in the laboratory) part. Depending on the skills and preferences of the PhD student, some research avenues will be pursued over others.

The successful candidate will have a very good MSc or undergraduate degree in Engineering or other relevant subject. He/she should have: a) a predisposition for analytical thinking, b) a familiarity with mathematical tools and c) an ability to learn software programming (prior experience in this respect is an advantage). The ideal candidate should also be enthusiastic and self-motivated with good organisational and interpersonal skills. He/she should show initiative, taking ownership of the research and contributing to the leadership of the project. The PhD studentship covers the full cost of tuition fees and provides a tax-free stipend of about 13,500 GBP per year for three years.

Candidates can submit their CV, full transcript of marks at undergraduate/postgraduate level and a cover letter electronically by sending an email to:

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